People with Type 1 diabetes can't produce insulin on their own, which used to mean a lifetime of getting poked with needles constantly to check blood sugar levels and inject insulin. But fast-advancing technology has led to artificial pancreas systems that can be implanted in the body, making the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes much easier and far less painful.
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The pancreas is the organ responsible for producing insulin in the body. But, with Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce insulin. So patients are forced to constantly check their glucose levels and inject insulin throughout the day to maintain normal levels. It can be a demanding and painful process.
Mayo Clinic endocrinologist Dr. Yogish Kudva oversees research on artificial pancreas systems at Mayo Clinic. He says the systems can drastically improve quality of life in patients with Type 1 diabetes.
"What it does is it makes that whole process less burdensome," Dr. Kudva says.
The artificial pancreas is a two part system that automates the process and makes insulin injections more prompt and accurate.
First, a probe that's implanted below the skin constantly measures glucose levels. The probe sends a wireless signal to an insulin pump, which connects to an injection site via tubes. As the pump receives signals from the probe, it automatically injects the correct amount of insulin.
Dr. Kudva says the system has limitations, but he says ongoing research should lead to big advances and more options for patients soon.
"For example, the continuous glucose monitoring system could last for longer," he says. The continuous glucose monitoring system could get more accurate. The insulin pump itself could get smaller, ... and the tubing could get better and less intrusive."
Those advances will lead to fewer patients having to poke themselves with needles every day and a better overall quality of life.