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Artificial pancreas gives hope of easier management to Type 1 diabetics

Posted December 29, 2016
Updated January 5

Type 1 diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin.

The condition does not have a cure. Living with Type 1 diabetes is also time consuming, but science is working to make that treatment a little bit easier.

Alicia Wesner was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 1979 before modern technology made managing the condition a little easier.

"There were no blood glucose machines," Wesner said. "There was no way of checking your glucose levels at home other than through a urine test."

Technology has come a long way since Wesner was diagnosed. Improvements in glucose meters and new types of insulin pumps now help people manage their treatment.

Even with the new devices, the burden of care still resides with the patient. Soon, though, another new advancement could take the stress of pricked fingers and remove the anxiety of calculating glucose levels.

In September, the Food and Drug Administration approved the first artificial pancreas. It's about the size of a smart phone, and users would wear it attached to their side like they would an insulin pump.

While the artificial organ does a lot of the work, users will still need to do a finger prick twice a day and keep a daily estimation of what they're eating.

"Patients will still need to enter into the device what they're eating to some degree," said Dr. Carol J. Levy, director of the artificial pancreas program at New York's Mount Sinai Hospital. "The difference is, if they make an error, the system will correct it."

Wesner tried out similar technology while participating in medical trials. She's confident that new types of diabetes management systems will help a lot of people.

"By no means do I think it's a cure, but if this is something that can give me a longer life until the cure is found and reduce some of the burden of this disease, I am all for it," Wesner said.

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