For people with type 1 diabetes, life is a perpetual tightrope act. They must carefully monitor the dosage and timing of insulin injections that allow them to teeter on the high wire that is optimum glucose control. Too little insulin, and their glucose levels rise, leaving them at risk over time for complications such as blindness and kidney failure; too much insulin and hypoglycemia (low blood glucose) results, making them vulnerable to coma or, in extreme circumstances, even death.
Now researchers studying type 1 diabetes believe they have found a way to help patients avoid the tightrope walk altogether. Several academic and commercial groups are conducting clinical trials for the latest generation of what's known as the artificial pancreas. Contrary to what the name might suggest, artificial pancreas systems involve no transfer of tissue. Rather, the term refers to a complex technology that uses computer algorithms to automatically and continuously sense a person's unique blood glucose balance and then substitute the endocrine function of a healthy pancreas.