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Eye on Health: Artificial pancreas

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Keeping type one diabetes under control takes a lot of work, monitoring blood sugar and keeping insulin in the body. There may soon be an alternative.

Researchers, in New York, are closer to creating an artificial pancreas. It has the potential to help millions of Americans living with type one diabetes.

These items are the tools people with diabetes use to monitor their blood sugar and get insulin into their bodies. Even an insulin pump can be cumbersome because you still have to prick your finger repeatedly during the day to test your blood sugar levels.

"Somebody is really having to take a very active role in the management of their diabetes," says  Dr Wayne Beguette.

Dr. Beguette's work would eliminate that. He's working on the development of an artificial pancreas. One that would both monitor blood sugar and administer insulin, a closed system as it's called.

Right now, in the early phase, it takes a number of large pieces of equipment that, one day, he hopes will be married into one, small, wearable unit.

"So a single device that you slap on so that maybe even the needle is integrated in the body, like that, rather than having tubing and such," says Dr. Beguette.

It's already passed the first testing hurdle, keeping a small number of test patient's blood sugar normal during the night.

"If you're the parents of a child with type 1 diabetes that's one of the biggest concerns overnight, you don't know what's happening to your child's blood glucose," says Dr. Beguette.

"It fills me with great hope," says Dr. Gregg Gerrity.

Dr. Gerrity is both a diabetes patient and as an endocrinologist treating people with diabetes.

"I'm testing my blood sugar between 6 and 8 times a day, now," says Dr. Gerrity.

It's imperative blood sugar levels aren't allowed to swing wildly. As Dr. Gerrity points out, that can cause an array of health problems including vision loss, heart disease, or even death.

So, for him , this development is especially encouraging, even though it may be years before a workable model comes to market.

"You know, I sort of tear up just thinking about that because it's so significant, " says Dr. Gerrity.

The actual unit is being developed at Stanford University. Dr. Beguette is doing the math that will be used in the computer program.

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