The Type 1 Breakthrough We've Been Waiting For

For years, the promise of an artificial pancreas has loomed over the diabetes community. The promises have never come to fruition, however, turning the artificial pancreas into something of a sad joke – a sign of the medical community's failings in diabetes management.

But now, the wait is over.

The MiniMed 670G

At the end of September, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved a new device from medical tech company Medtronic: the MiniMed 670G.

This device is meant to act as an artificial pancreas, measuring the diabetic person's blood every five minutes and administering insulin to regulate his or her levels. The FDA's approval of the MiniMed comes about six months earlier than anticipated, sparking interest in the latest in diabetes management technology. The device is expected to be on the market in Spring 2017.

The Details

How will the MiniMed 670G work? The device works with an insulin pump on a closed loop system; essentially, a glucose sensor is put under the skin with a needle, and this sensor delivers blood sugar readings to an insulin pump worn on the abdomen. As the two devices communicate, they administer insulin to the person, making sure that their glucose levels are optimal throughout the day.

Derek Rapp, chief executive officer of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, has praised the device for its effective, intuitive operations. “This device will mean peace of mind, in knowing a person will be in normal blood sugar range a great majority of the time,” he said.

The Drawbacks

While Medtronic's device is a tremendous step forward for the 1.25 million people with type 1 diabetes in the United States, there are some limitations on its reach. For example, the device is only approved for people 14 years of age or older. The device is expected to cost between $5000 and $6000, too, making it potentially inaccessible for lower-income diabetics.

The device also requires some maintenance – though admittedly, less maintenance than the average day for a diabetic. The device has to be re calibrated every 12 hours, as well as after any exercise. Additionally, the insulin reservoir on the MiniMed must be replaced every three days. Wearability has also been a concern, as many diabetics object to being continually strapped to two devices.

But drawbacks aside, as Aaron Kowalski, chief mission officer for the JDRF pointed out, “The diabetes isn’t gone, but [wearers] can think about it less …This is a historic milestone.”

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