Scientists have created a bionic pancreas that outperforms insulin pumps
Image: Sebastian Kaulitzki/Shutterstock

The results showed that type 1 diabetics who used the bionic pancreas were more likely to have blood glucose levels consistently within the normal range than those who used fingerstick tests and then manually injected insulin.

While these traditional methods can help type 1 diabetics to live normally with their disease, they require constant attention and can often result in dangerous glucose highs and lows.

The new bionic pancreas, created by a team from Boston University, has a tiny removable sensor located in a thin needle, which is inserted under the skin of a patient and beams their glucose levels in real time to a smartphone app.

The app calculates the levels of insulin or glucagon needed to balance blood sugar, and tells an implanted pump to administer the required dose automatically.

Before eating, patients can simply input data about their meal to have the app factor it in. Other than that, the patients don't need to think about their levels.

The researchers tested the device on 20 adults staying in a hotel for five days, free to live, eat and exercise as they pleased. They also monitored it on 32 adolescents who were at a summer camp for kids with diabetes. The results were compared with participants who had used traditional methods of controlling the disease.

The findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, revealed the bionic pancreas was much better at keeping user's levels stable.

The leader of the project, Ed Damiano, came up with the idea for the device after his son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. His aim is to have it ready by the time his son is in college, as Bob Roehr reports in New Scientist.

These results suggest he's on track for that goal.

"The performance of our system in both adults and adolescents exceeded our expectations under very challenging real-world conditions," said Damiano in a press release.

Previous research has shown that by keeping blood glucose levels in this normal range, patients can avoid complications such as heart, kidney and eye disease.

The next step is more real-world testing. The scientists hope within the next few years the devices will be available to a broader range of patients.