UCSB researchers have successfully developed a device with the potential to revolutionize treatment of Type I diabetes.

The Doyle Group at the UCSB Chemical Engineering Dept.’s system could eventually act as an artificial pancreas, regulating the blood glucose and drastically helping to prevent the disease’s long-term complications. The device contains insulin pumps and blood glucose sensors, which are linked together by a software control mechanism. The sensors feed blood glucose data to the control mechanism every five minutes, providing the software with an accurate blood sugar reading.

Dr. Eyal Dassau, the senior investigator behind the treatment, said the mechanism will soon be presented to the Food and Drug Administration for clinical trials.

According to Dassau, the software can detect unplanned meals and if it decides that insulin is needed, the pumps release a calculated dose from an internal reservoir.

“The control mechanism predicts ahead the insulin within the system and gives the optimal infusion rate,” Dassau said. “This infusion rate is fully automated… no human interaction is required.”

The device, also referred to as an ‘artificial pancreatic beta cell,’ has already been subjected to clinical trials overseas. According to Dassau, the previous clinical trials should help the artificial pancreas gain FDA approval.

According to Frank Doyle, although the research team studied treatments for both Type I and Type II diabetes the artificial pancreatic device will be exclusively tested on patients suffering from type I diabetes.

“In my research group we work on both Type I and Type II diabetes,” Doyle, a professor in the Chemical Engineering Dept., said. “But this is exclusively for Type I patients that require extraneous insulin in their body.”

Type I diabetes is an autoimmune disease which destroys the beta cells within the pancreas, preventing the organ from producing and excreting insulin. Without insulin, cells within the body cannot absorb sugar and if left untreated, Type I diabetes is fatal.

While the device does not cure diabetes, it will make treatment simpler, Dassau said.

“It’s not a cure for diabetes, but it will make life for diabetic patients much easier and help them cope with the disease,” Dassau said.

Although the artificial pancreas is still in the development stages, the pumps and sensors of the device are currently controlled via laptop, which allows the engineers to easily develop and improve the control software. However, the laptop is currently too large to allow patients to move about efficiently.

“When [the artificial pancreas] becomes a developed product, the control mechanism can be stored inside the pump,” Dassau said. “These are part of the product development stages.”

Doyle said that the laptop should be phased out as the development process progresses and will most likely be replaced with a PDA or a phone.

“The laptop for our clinical trials is not a practical solution by a long stretch,” Doyle said, “[We may be] migrating to a PDA, or a phone that has an operating system which can manage software.”