For people living with diabetes, the daily burden of monitoring their blood sugar levels and calculating how much insulin they require can prove to be time consuming as it is stressful. A study presented at Sunday’s American Diabetes Association conference in San Francisco has revealed successful results of clinical trials testing the effectiveness of the “bionic pancreas” with people managing their type 1 diabetes diagnosis.

“People worry about finding their loved ones 'dead in bed.’ Diabetes is relentless. It never takes a vacation," Ed Damiano, lead research and biomedical engineer at Boston University, said at the conference. "My goal is to have this device done by the time my kid, who has Type 1 diabetes, goes to college.”

According to the American Diabetes Association, out of the 26 million American’s suffering from diabetes, around five percent are affected by type 1 diabetes. People with type 1 diabetes do not have the ability to produce insulin, a hormone that converts sugar into energy. When too much sugar builds up in a diabetic’s blood, they run the risk of severe health complications, including heart disease and amputation.

Researchers from Boston University and Massachusetts General Hospital tested the “bionic pancreas” device on 20 adults and 32 adolescents diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in two separate studies. For a period of five days, participants either managed their blood sugar levels and insulin through the “bionic pancreas” or standard insulin pumps. Compared to adults who used insulin pumps with an average glucose level of 159, adults using the “bionic pancreas” produced blood sugar levels at around 133. Adolescents using the “bionic pancreas” averaged blood sugar levels at 138 compared to 157 among those using an insulin pump.

As opposed to the standard form of treatment that requires medical devices to be transplanted into the body, the “bionic pancreas” is made up of three devices that are carried outside of the body. One cellphone-sized hormone pump delivers insulin to lower blood sugar while a second hormone pump delivers glucagon to raise blood sugar. Three tubes placed just under the skin are connected to an iPhone for constant glucose monitoring,

Although several companies such as Johnson & Johnson and Medtronic are also currently working on similar artificial pancreas devices, Damiano says the device tested by the Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University team acts more like a natural pancreas. Where other artificial pancreases only correct high blood sugar, the “bionic pancreas” can also fix low blood sugar. The researchers are now launching a larger scale study on Monday involving 40 adults who will use the device for 11 days. Damiano and his colleagues hope to gain Food and Drug Administration approval for the device after this next round of clinical trials that should last around a year.

Source: Russel S, Sinah M, Damiano E, et al. Outpatient Glycemic Control with a Bionic Pancreas in Type 1 Diabetes. The New England Journal of Medicine. 2014.