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YOUR HEALTH Creating a new pancreas for diabetics

PALO ALTO, California – Researchers, developing an "artificial pancreas", are finding it could be a game-changer for those with Type One Diabetes.  And now, the youngest diabetics are taking part in the trials to see if it's effective.

For 13-year-old Jamie Kurtzig 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: she could fall into a coma.

"For ten 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," says Jamie's mother, Sara Kurtzig.

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.

The device is the MiniMed® 670G system by Medtronic.    It's the first FDA-approved hybrid closed loop system.

It's approved for the treatment of people 14 years and older, but Jamie is part of the trial to test the system for use in children with Type 1 Diabetes who are at least seven years old.

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

For pediatric diabetics, most of their seizures occur at night.   Researchers hope the artificial pancreas will cut those numbers dramatically.

Jamie is part of a trial at Stanford Children's Health, which helped prompt the FDA to approve the device.  It's being hailed as an historic step towards 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, an endoctrinologist at Stanford Children's Health.

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

The pancreas helps to digest food, and if the pancreas does not produce enough insulin or glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it can leave cells without any energy.  When glucose builds up in the bloodstream, it can result in hyperglycemia, which may cause symptoms such as nausea, shortness of breath, or thirst.  Hypoglycemia is the result of low glucose and can produce shakiness, loss of consciousness, and dizziness.  Both of these conditions can be life-altering to those who suffer from them.

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.

NEW TECHNOLOGY: An artificial pancreas can help those with Type-1 diabetes manage glucose levels. The artificial pancreas automatically checks blood sugar levels and releases the correct amount of insulin when needed. The device works from a smart phone or tablet, and uses a computer program to direct it. There is only one type of artificial pancreas, and it is called the 'hybrid system.'. The system includes a sensor attached to the body to measure glucose levels every five minutes, which automatically gives or withholds insulin via a catheter attached to the body. Because the system is hybrid, it is not fully automatic. This means the patient using it has to manually confirm insulin doses. Researchers are currently looking into a fully-closed loop system to give correct insulin amounts without human input.  (Source: http://www.healthline.com/health/diabetes-artificial-pancreas#types-of-artificial-pancreases2)

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.