Life-saver for diabetics being created here

January 29, 2013 5:23:47 AM PST
Even for the most disciplined patient, diabetes can take a daily physical and emotional toll. But, a West Chester, Pennsylvania company is developing a device which could be a life-changer.

Diabetes plays a major role in the family of Bennett Dunlap in Huntingdon Valley, Pennsylvania. His son Connor was diagnosed with Type 1 at age 9. A year later his daughter Delaney was diagnosed - she was 7 at the time.

He remembers, "It was just crushing. I knew how to do everything and I also knew what that meant and what was in her future."

That future, like her brother's, included around-the-clock blood sugar checks, insulin shots, and the dos and don'ts of food.

Delaney felt overwhelmed.

"It was a lot of pricking myself with needles," she sighs. "And that was not something that any 7-year-old would want to do."

But as they got the hang of it, Bennett started blogging to help other families cope with diabetes. His blog, Your Diabetes May Vary, has many regular readers.

Today Delaney and her brother use insulin pumps rather than injections. Delaney also tried a separate glucose monitor so she wouldn't have to stick her finger as much. But that adds bulk, and didn't work with the pump. Plus, neither prevents dangerous blood sugar drops at night.

Several dozen children die of those nighttime lows every year. In addition, the JDRF (formerly the Juvenile Diabetes Research Fund) conservatively estimates that 1 in 20 with Type 1 diabetes will die of low blood sugar.

Megan Hollinger's daughter, Maeve, is among the fastest growing segment of Type 1 patients - under 5 years of age.

Maeve, known as "Brave Maeve" to her family, was diagnosed with Type 1 at 18 months. Megan says, "It's scary having someone's life in your hands."

The former Philadelphia mom tests her daughter every 2 and a half hours, and makes sure she eats every 3 hours, getting insulin every time.

Megan gets very little sleep, having to get up for testing and feeding. That's where the company Animas in West Chester comes into play. The maker of the One Touch and Ping diabetes monitors and pumps is working on a device that would marry the two, creating the first so-called 'artificial pancreas.'

"[The device] takes the information from your continuous glucose monitor regarding your blood sugar concentration, analyzes that information mathematically, comes up with the appropriate amount of insulin to deliver to you at the appropriate time," says project leader Daniel Finan.

Finan says the artificial pancreas would be about the same size as a current insulin pump, and also worn at the waist.

Getting the two systems to talk to each other is complicated, but the new device passed its first test with a handful of patients.

"It absolutely did what it was supposed to do," says Finan, smiling broadly. He helped present the data at a national meeting last year.

Larger studies are getting started soon. There's no firm date for a release, but the company's chief says the artificial pancreas is a top priority.

Endocrinologist and diabetes researcher Dr. Henry Anhalt says, "This is about offering relief to parents, to caregivers, and to patients to allow them to have some of the burden lifted off."

Delaney says having one single device would be "awesome."

"It's like, 'Yes! One less thing to carry, ahhh!'" she says.

When the new trials begin, it will be tested on adults first, then children. The Food & Drug Administration issued its guidelines for the project last month.

The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation is a partner in the research with Animas. The JDRF is also making a major investment in another advance: Creating insulin that reacts to blood sugar.

It wouldn't work if the blood sugar is already low, helping prevent those dangerous dips.

Megan Hollinger salutes the push by parents and researchers to get better solutions to Type 1 diabetes. Her daughter's struggles are documented in the film, "Brave Maeve.

Learn more about the artificial pancreas project by visiting