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Artificial pancreas: The future of diabetes treatment

By Killiad Sinide | October 12th 2020 at 12:00:00 GMT +0300

Every time you eat, the pancreas releases insulin into the bloodstream. The work of insulin is to convert blood sugar (glucose) into energy. Without insulin, glucose will build up in your blood stream, causing hyperglycemia. This is what happens to Type 1 diabetic patients.

In Type 1 diabetes, autoimmune conditions damage beta cells of the pancreas that produces insulin. Consequently, the pancreas fails to produce adequate insulin, leading to high glucose levels in the blood, which disrupts the body’s metabolism, causing symptoms like frequent urination, increased thirst, chronic fatigue and weight loss.

While diabetes cannot be cured, it can be managed. Pancreas transplants and implants are treatment options available for patients suffering from this disease.

Who needs a pancreas transplant?

A pancreas transplant involves surgically removing a healthy pancreas from a deceased donor to a person with a malfunctioning pancreas. A successful pancreas transplant eliminates the need of a patient taking insulin medication because the new organ will restore normal insulin production and improve blood sugar control. This procedure is usually recommended for patients whose diabetes remain uncontrollable even after several medical treatments.

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Before a pancreas transplant is done, several examinations, including a compatibility test, will be conducted to determine if the recipient’s body will reject the donor’s organ. This procedure can be done simultaneously with a kidney transplant if a diabetic patient is at a high risk of kidney failure.

Although this surgery offers a potential cure to Type 1 diabetes, it is not recommended to Type 2 diabetes patients because the latter occurs due to the body’s resistance to insulin or its inability to use it properly, rather than a problem with insulin production in the pancreas.

The artificial pancreas implant

An artificial pancreas is a device that works like a normal human pancreas. It is designed to monitor blood sugar levels and release insulin in response to changing blood glucose levels. This system involves a sensor, continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and insulin pump.

The sensor is placed under the skin while the CGM and insulin pump are worn on your body underneath your clothes. Together, they work as a team to respond to changes in your blood glucose levels. The CGM uses the sensors to check the blood sugar level every five minutes and sends the reading to the insulin pump. If your blood sugar level is high, the pump automatically releases the right doses of insulin into your body through a patch and a thin tube called a catheter. When your blood glucose level returns to the normal level the pump automatically stops releasing the insulin dose. Patients who cannot be helped by insulin treatment are advised to have pancreas transplants rather than get these artificial implants.

This system can be connected to a smartphone app, which enables your doctor to keep track of your blood sugar levels and insulin doses.

Available in Kenya? 

Not yet. But it should make its way into the country owing to the fact that it was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for distribution and use just a few months ago.


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