Developing Pediatric Artificial Pancreas

Over the past 12 years, researchers at the Institute for Collaborative Biotechnologies at the University of California at Santa Barbara (UCSB) have worked to develop an Artificial Pancreas (AP).

The AP uses sensor technology, insulin pump, and algorithms to read levels of glucose which enables the appropriate amount of insulin to be injected based on the data and the patient’s individual characteristics.

However, tailoring the device to manage pediatric diabetes requires researchers to consider additional factors. Type 1 diabetes often needs round-the-clock attention to manage the disease just to keep blood glucose levels within a healthy range. For many type 1 diabetics, glucose levels can drop to dangerously low levels between dinner and breakfast.

This device can be very stressful for parents since children with Type 1 diabetes, have unpredictable eating habits and food preferences, participate in spontaneous physical activities, and may have sensitivity to insulin. This requires parents to be extra vigilant.

NIH has awarded a $1.8 million three year grant (DP3DK104057) to UCSB to enable researchers and the team to develop an AP for children. This grant is the first award for pediatric closed-loop study. According to researchers, the first phase of research for the pediatric AP involves collecting data.

So far, the research team has developed safety algorithms for both hypo-and hyperglycemia that can be adjusted for young children. Because insulin requirements change as the child gets older, the algorithms will be adjusted and refined according to different age groups.

The second phase of the project involves developing and doing in-clinic testing on an advisory system incorporating an alert system for parents to use to manage their child’s impending hypo-or hyperglycemia.

In recent trials, researchers have demonstrated that algorithms can keep children in a safe range 80 percent or more of the time. The UCSB AP’s Health Monitoring System was able to send user alerts in the form of messages and audible signals when problems arise, such as blood sugars that are trending low.

Additionally, researchers now have two other grants funding research to examine how the device can monitor its own operations and alert users to potential malfunctions. In future studies, pediatric AP testing will eventually move to an outpatient component where children are given free rein over what they eat but at locations near the clinic with close supervision available from technical staff.


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