Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death and disability in the United States today. Whether one suffers from the typically more severe and congenital Type I diabetes or the more attenuated but acquired Type II diabetes, either form of this disease can lead to severe complications, disability or even death if it is not adequately controlled.
But controlling this disease, in which the body either produces insufficient insulin or loses its ability to naturally use insulin, can prove to be far more difficult than those who have not suffered from diabetes could imagine. In order to keep blood glucose levels within safe ranges, constant monitoring of the blood sugar levels of anyone suffering from the condition is required. Unfortunately, this involves a large amount of effort, which involves the sometimes painful and invasive insertion of a needle into the fingertip or another area of the body from which blood can be drawn. Because of the difficulty of complying with optimal diabetes management, many patients simply fail to comply altogether. This often leads to catastrophic outcomes.
Now, the advent of the artificial pancreas offers hope for a way that diabetes sufferers can keep their blood sugar levels within acceptable ranges, with only minimal interference with their daily lives and little effort. Although artificial pancreas systems have been in existence, in one form or another since the 1960s, today, they are quickly becoming viable as a fully automated means of treating diabetes.
Although there is not currently a fully autonomous or closed-loop artificial pancreas system on the market, many are under development. The consensus among experts seems to be that the first fully automatic artificial pancreas systems will become available in the next couple of years.
In the meantime, highly sophisticated systems, like the Medtronic Minimed, offer people with diabetes a dramatic reduction in the workload normally associated with the monitoring and administration of insulin. This system still requires the user to make inputs at certain times, such as after they eat or while they exercise, but the rest of its operation is fully automated.
There are also currently “do-it-yourself” fully autonomous artificial pancreas systems that people can build on their own. Although these systems are not FDA-approved, many patients have reported excellent results from their use.