Cedric Fernando, M.D., on Scientists’ Work Toward an Artificial Pancreas

Dr. Cedric Fernando has served as an Assistant Clinical Professor at the East Tennessee State University Quillen College of Medicine since 1987. He also works at the Unicoi County Memorial Hospital in Erwin, Tennessee.

Through two new studies, scientists have taken further steps toward developing the first artificial pancreas. The new device would constantly monitor blood sugar levels in patients with type 1 diabetes and carefully calibrate insulin levels to their needs.

In type 1 diabetes, a patient’s immune system attacks the pancreas, destroying the body’s ability to produce insulin. Currently, people with type 1 diabetes try to predict how much insulin they will need over the course of a day and inject the insulin themselves. If they give themselves too much, they can cause lasting physical harm, and if they give themselves too little, they can die. Many people with type 1 diabetes, especially children, have difficulty maintaining proper insulin levels.

In one recent study, researchers used a computer-controlled system to keep children in their ideal blood sugar range for five hours overnight, compared to three hours with a parent-directed insulin pump. Another study used an automated system to predict changes in blood glucose levels and deliver the appropriate amount of insulin.

Although these studies are preliminary, scientists hope to create an artificial pancreas within five to ten years.

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