Would an Artificial Pancreas be a Diabetes “Cure?”

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s announcement yesterday of a partnership with Animas Corp. and DexCom Inc. to develop a first-generation automated insulin delivery system brought to my mind a question that is often debated in diabetes circles: Would a fully automated “artificial pancreas” represent a “cure” for type 1 diabetes?

Picture courtesy of JDRF

Many say no. After all, it’s a machine—two, in fact—that the user must wear at all times. Even if the “loop” is fully “closed” so that glucose control is completely automatic, the user would still have to interact with the insulin pump and the glucose sensor to replenish the insulin supply and regularly switch insertion sites, just as wearers of the current separate devices do. And of course, occlusions and malfunctions would remain possibilities.

On the other hand, consider what a fully closed-loop system would mean to type 1 diabetes patients like me. Even though I currently wear a pump and have used continuous glucose sensors, my diabetes control is far from ideal. Here’s a typical reason why: Tuesday night I had dinner with a friend. I gave myself a pre-meal insulin bolus, but in the midst of conversation I didn’t bother pushing the pump’s buttons again after eating more carbs than I had dosed for.

So of course my blood sugar was high at bedtime. I did give myself more insulin then, but not enough to fully “correct” because that could have pushed my blood sugar too low during the night, a particularly scary prospect since I live alone. Never once have I gone to bed at night without the fear that I might not wake up the next morning.

Wednesday morning I did wake up…with a high blood sugar and a lot of guilt. In my case it’s not for lack of knowledge or education or insurance coverage or access to care. It’s simply that I’m a human being, trying to live a relatively normal life despite a condition that demands constant attention.

So would an artificial pancreas be a diabetes cure? Well, Webster’s dictionary defines “cure” as “recovery or relief from a disease.” The diabetes would still be there, so it’s not really “recovery.” But a “relief?” The only problem with that definition is that it’s an enormous understatement.

Miriam E. Tucker  (@MiriamETucker on Twitter)



Filed under Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism, Family Medicine, IMNG, Internal Medicine, Pediatrics, Uncategorized

10 responses to “Would an Artificial Pancreas be a Diabetes “Cure?”

  1. Anita Manning

    Thank you – I know development of an artificial pancreas has been a long-sought goal, but many of us who do not have diabetes have been unable to appreciate the impact such a device could have on everyday life. You’ve expressed that powerfully. Thank you.

  2. ivan

    i have the same problem, is not that im not educated about diabetes is just that im young and i just want to live a normal life
    im just 17 and live in the bronx so you just could imagine how i feel wen my friends go party and i cant go because of my illness.
    not that this important but im just a teen and is really hard to be checking a machine every time you eat something and then check it again after you finish.however i think that the atificial pancreas would help us alot even though a cure would be awesome . =)

  3. Do you need a whole pancreas or can the islets of Langerhans be duplicated?

  4. Miriam E. Tucker


    Thanks for your comment. The “artificial pancreas” would be an external machine designed to do all the work of a natural human pancreas. What you’re referring to, islet cell transplantation, is a potential biological cure that has actually been done successfully but requires a lifetime of immunosuppression. Both avenues towards a “cure” are being pursued.

  5. I understand the concepts of using “machines” in the quest of controlling diabetis, but I think a lot more research should go into natural methods to cure the disease. I’m thankful I don’t have Diabetis, but think more natural homeopathic solutions should be explored.

  6. Pingback: The Top-Viewed Posts of 2010 | EGMN: Notes from the Road

  7. keira shepard

    since i was diagnosed as diabetic ,i have been hearing of permanent cure by vaccine or artificial pancrease or long term insulin.but such hopes doesn’t reduces any of the problems who taking insulin every day.people have stopped readind news on diabetic becos they are exhausted of not having any perfect solution to reduce sugar.In 2009 i had to make decission to change the track from tablets &insulin to herbal medicine.my whole stuggle of reducing sugar has come to end by herbal medicines.i had started with herbal medicines from SB from India.today my sugar is much under controll +totally free from insulin &tablets.better go for herbal medicine.which is more effective instead of waitning for new vacine or pancreas replacement.consult sb, he do help people to reduce sugar score.

  8. sujatha kharey

    hahaha every year new year new story of ending diabetes.from age of 15 my parents use to console me ,by saying “”in next 2 years i”ll be healthy because new vacine is on the way.now i am married with 2 kids.last year i started herbal medicine from sb which has reduced my sugar score &he has managed to stop my night insulin.i use to take 6 tablets +3 times insulin.
    now i am taking no tablets &i am on only 1 insulin.consult sb at
    (sbsidh317@gmail.com ) sb is not an proffessional doctor but he provide us with proper quantity of powder of differrent plants leaves which gives proper effect on pancreas.mostly doctors prescribe medicine whic are available in market but sb makes the powder what our body needs .that is the different between sb & others.but yes he is not an doctor but he also doesn’t provide any thing which you can say is harmfull for health.his medicine are food items what we use in daily in kitchen &normal plant leaves what we see daily.i don’t care he is doctor or not bcos he has reduced my sugar.
    its not only me there are around 200+people who have reduced there sugar with sb help.

  9. Nice response in return of this difficulty with real arguments and explaining all on the topic of that.

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