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Bionic pancreas could help people with type 1 diabetes

Researchers are hopeful that an artificial pancreas they have developed will make life easier for people with type 1 diabetes.

The device is an automated pump that releases the hormones insulin and glucagon, and works with a glucose monitoring system that is controlled by an iPhone app, The Boston Globe reports. Researchers from Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston University studied 52 adults and children who used the artificial pancreas and were allowed to eat whatever they wanted. "They went on a diabetes vacation, eating ice cream, candy bars, and other things they normally wouldn't eat," says Dr. Steven Russell, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital.

All participants were closely monitored, and the researchers found that the adult patients with type 1 diabetes who used the device had lower blood sugar levels than the control group, while the children did not experience a significant difference in the blood sugar measurements. The adults also spent 67 percent less time in a state of hypoglycemia, and the children experienced a 50 percent reduction in carbohydrate use to treat hypoglycemia.

The device still needs to undergo more testing, but it could be available as early as 2017. "The initial proof of concept is very strong," said Dr. Guillermo Arreaza-Rubin, a director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, which funded the study. "Parents of children with type 1 live in permanent fear, and maybe this device can free them from that burden and increase the quality of life of those with this disease."