Federal regulators have approved a first-of-a-kind "artificial pancreas," a device that can help some diabetes patients manage their disease by constantly monitoring their blood sugar and delivering insulin as needed. The "MiniMed 670G" device from Medtronic was approved Wednesday for patients with Type 1 diabetes, the kind usually diagnosed during childhood, the AP reports. About 5% of the 29 million Americans with diabetes have this type, and they have to manage their insulin through multiple injections throughout the day or a drug pump that delivers it through a tube. Their own pancreas doesn't make insulin, a hormone needed to turn food into energy.
The new device consists of a cellphone-sized drug pump, a sensor that measures blood sugar, and a tube that delivers the insulin. The sensor measures sugar levels every five minutes, infusing or withholding insulin as needed. Patients still have to manually increase insulin before meals. Older insulin pumps simply deliver a baseline level of insulin, and patients must monitor their sugar levels and give themselves more insulin to keep their blood sugar from getting too high. A big danger is having too much insulin in the body overnight, when blood-sugar levels naturally fall. The FDA said it approved the device after a three-month study involving more than 120 patients reported no adverse events. (Read more type 1 diabetes stories.)