Health Beat

Health Beat: Artificial pancreas game-changer for diabetes treatment

SAN FRANCISCO - For Jamie Kurtzig, 13, and her mom Sara, checking her blood sugar level during the day is routine. They've been doing it since she was diagnosed with type one diabetes at just 19 months. The problem is at night, if blood sugars drop, Jamie could easily have a seizure, or worse, fall into a coma.

"For 10 years, we just set alarms and get up, ya know, every, usually every two to three hours to do a check to make sure that she's in a safe range," Sara said.

But a device just under Jamie's shoulder is changing all that. Dubbed an artificial pancreas, or closed-looped insulin delivery system, it checks glucose levels every five minutes and wirelessly alerts Jamie's pump, which then delivers the correct dose of insulin.

"And so I can just go to bed and wake up and be in auto mode and perfect blood sugar," Jamie explained.

Jamie is part of a trial at Stanford, which helped prompt the FDA to approve the device. It's being hailed as a historic step toward treating diabetes, but doctors warn this is not a cure.

"This is a car analogy: that you are still driving, putting on the gas, putting on the brakes, and making the turns, and it is not an autopilot car," explained Dr. Bruce Buckingham, a professor of pediatrics (endocrinology) at the Lucile Salter Packard Children's Hospital in California.

Jamie will have to manage her diabetes her entire life, but at least for now, she and her family can get a good night's sleep.

For pediatric diabetics, 75 percent of all seizures occur at night. Researchers are hoping the artificial pancreas will decrease those numbers dramatically.

The system is not an option for most people with type two diabetes, the more common form of the disease.


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