The first United States outpatient trials for a hand-held artificial pancreas device will begin this year. The artificial pancreas can help Type 1 diabetics manage their disease by automatically regulating insulin and blood sugar levels.

A smartphone was modified to create the hand-held device. The artificial pancreas acts much like a real pancreas by regulating insulin.

Researchers from the University of Virginia, University of California in Santa Barbara, Montpellier University Hospital in France, and the University of Padova and the University of Pavia in Italy as part of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s (JDRF) Artificial Pancreas Project helped to develop the hand-held device. The research team was led by Patrick Keith-Hynes and Boris Kovatchev from the University of Virginia.

The hand-held device may just revolutionize how diabetics manage their disease, note researchers. The artificial pancreas acts as an insulin pump and as a Continuous Glucose Monitor (CGM) which allows the device to monitor and manage diabetes in real-time. According to research, the device manages safe blood sugar levels and automates the process of when to administer insulin.

The first person to use this device was Justin Wood, a 40 year-old resident of Charlottesville, VA, who was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. Previously, Wood had to use an insulin pump to regulate blood sugar and was meticulous about what he ate in order to make sure he was using enough insulin.

The hand-held artificial pancreas made it easier for Wood to manage his diabetes. During meals, all Wood had to do was input what he ate and the artificial pancreas automatically regulated his blood sugar level. In the morning, the device balanced Woods’ sugar levels.

Tracking diabetes is easier thanks to the artificial pancreas and removes some of the more annoying aspects of monitoring the disease on a daily basis. Finger pricking to check blood sugar is common for diabetics, and Wood had to prick his finger between three to five times each day to check his blood sugar. Using the artificial pancreas reduced the number of times Wood pricked his finger to check his sugar to around twice a day.

Additional testing in Europe, involving two patients, had similar success. The two diabetics used the artificial pancreas for one day and managed to have near-normal glucose levels thanks to the device monitoring and regulating blood sugar levels. The patients ate a meal at a restaurant and spent time in a hotel while using the artificial pancreas.

There are no fully-automated insulin systems like the artificial pancreas that are available to the general public. The global research team will continue outpatient testing by enrolling 120 patients in the trial through 2012 and into 2013.