This is big news. The FDA has approved the use of a hybrid closed-loop system for the treatment of Type 1 diabetes for people 14 years old or older. The system monitors blood sugar levels, then automatically provides the appropriate dose of insulin. This moves us one step closer to an “artificial pancreas” for people with diabetes.
When working normally, the human body’s pancreas produces insulin at a low, continuous rate in order to maintain a constant blood sugar level. The pancreas in patients with diabetes fails to produce sufficient insulin, and as a result, many patients must inject insulin multiple times throughout the day. This can result in greater swings in blood sugar levels, especially at night when the patient is asleep.
The newly approved system is based on Medtronic’s MiniMed 670G. It consists of a wearable continuous glucose meter (CGM) and an automated insulin pump that communicates wirelessly with the CGM. The system still requires an occasional finger stick when there’s a need to adjust the insulin dosage, but the system provides gradual amounts of insulin throughout the day and night. If blood sugar levels fall below a specific level, the automated insulin delivery is suspended. The result is that blood sugar levels stay within a narrower range over time, which can result in better health outcomes in the long term. The system is expected to ship in the U.S. starting in the spring of 2017.
We still have not achieved a completely autonomous artificial pancreas, but this is a significant step in that direction. Patients with diabetes can look forward to a future where managing their condition will require a lot less of their time and attention, and should help reduce the costs that arise from secondary complications that are currently a frequent problem.