Artificial pancreas gives hope for injection-free diabetes
19 Jan 2011
An artificial pancreas being developed at De Montfort
University could revolutionise the treatment of diabetes and put a stop
to daily injections.
Professor Joan Taylor from De Montfort University in Leicester in
the UK is developing a device that would be implanted into the body
between the lowest rib and the hip and would be topped up with
insulin every few weeks.
Glucose levels are normally controlled by the hormone insulin
that is released by the pancreas when required. People who have
diabetes either do not produce insulin, produce insufficient insulin
or the insulin they do produce does not work properly. The condition
affects millions of people across the world.
The artificial pancreas is undergoing pre-clinical trials and is
made of a metal casing containing a supply of insulin that is kept
in place by a gel barrier invented and patented by Professor Taylor.
When glucose levels in the body rise, the gel barrier starts to
liquefy and lets insulin out. The insulin feeds into the veins
around the gut and then into the vein to the liver, mimicking the
normal process for a person with a healthy pancreas. As the insulin
lowers the glucose level in the body, the gel reacts by hardening
again and stopping the supply.
This means the right amount of insulin is released automatically
every time the body needs it, putting an end to daily injections and
the guesswork often involved for diabetics when trying to control
blood glucose levels that can lead to health problems such as heart
disease, kidney disease, strokes and blindness.
If successful, the device would be a simple and low-cost solution
to the problem facing all diabetics. The system has no moving parts
or batteries and would be implanted internally, making it invisible
on the outside.
A prototype made of plastic has been produced and demonstrates
how Professor Taylor believes the device will look when it is ready
to market. She hopes to move on to clinical trials within the next
few years. If these prove successful then the system could be
available in five to 10 years.
Professor Joan Taylor with an artificial pancreas that
developed. The device could be implanted into
the body and topped up
with insulin every few weeks.
Photo credit: Brian Bell
Professor Taylor said: "I realised that I could use a certain
protein to make a gel that would react with glucose. When exposed to
the body fluid around the internal organs, the gel reacts according
to the amount of glucose present.
"High levels cause the gel to soften and release insulin into the
blood stream, once the glucose levels return to normal the nature of
the gel causes it to re-solidify, perfectly controlling the insulin
dose," she added.
"The device will not only remove the need to manually inject
insulin but will also ensure that perfect doses are administrated
each and every time. By controlling blood glucose so effectively, we
should be able to help reduce related health problems.
"It may be that the artificial pancreas is only suitable for
people with type-one diabetes, this will only be known when we reach
the clinical trial stage," said Professor Taylor.