iPhone Used to Create Promising Bionic Pancreas

It performed well in Type 1 diabetes tests
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 16, 2014 7:30 AM CDT
iPhone Used to Create Promising Bionic Pancreas
In this Monday Oct. 10, 2011, file photo, Siri, Apple's virtual assistant, is displayed on the Apple iPhone 4S in San Francisco.   (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, File)

While you were using your iPhone to browse Facebook and read Newser, a group of researchers was modifying an iPhone 4S to be used as a portable artificial pancreas—and in a recent trial, the device successfully regulated the blood sugar levels of people with Type 1 diabetes. About a third of people with Type 1 diabetes, which is typically diagnosed in childhood, use an insulin pump to regulate their blood sugar rather than giving themselves insulin injections. But unlike those pumps, the bionic pancreas adjusts both insulin and glucagon, a hormone that works with insulin to regulate blood sugar, automatically, the New York Times reports. It performed better than a regular pump for both adults and adolescents, according to the press release.

The device is comprised of more than just the iPhone: The patient has a sensor implanted under the skin near the abdomen, which sends readings of blood glucose levels to the attached phone. The phone then calculates and sends the correct dosage of insulin and glucagon through attached pumps and tubes every five minutes. Patients can also enter information about meals before they eat, and the phone will calculate and deliver the correct dose. Twice-daily finger pricks are still required, with the blood sugar readings entered into the phone. Adult participants had about 37% fewer incidents during which low blood glucose levels required intervention—incidents that can be dangerous in the moment as well as cause health complications down the line—and the device could even allow patients to eat what they want, the Boston Globe notes. (During the trial, participants "went on a diabetes vacation, eating ice cream, candy bars, and other things they normally wouldn’t eat," explains the lead researcher.) It could be available by 2017, but larger trials are the next step. (More diabetes stories.)

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