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Engineering new weapons in the fight against juvenile diabetes

pump that continually administers small amounts of rapid-acting insulin. Additionally, they must test their blood sugar several times every day. Failure to maintain proper insulin and blood sugar levels could result in serious, potentially life-threatening hypoglycemic (low blood sugar) and hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) reactions. Type 1 diabetes can occur at any age, but is most commonly diagnosed from infancy to the late 30s, according to the JDRF.

A key challenge for people living with Type 1 diabetes, Bequette said, is the constant monitoring of their blood sugar level. Blood glucose levels are generally measured from a tiny blood sample captured from a finger stick test, prior to eating or sleeping. Another critical challenge, he said, is accurately estimating how many carbohydrates they eat. These blood sugar readings, along with the amount of carbs eaten, must be interpreted to decide how much insulin the individual needs to inject. Exercise and fitness also impact the amount of insulin required. Continuous blood glucose monitors are available on the market, but are not yet as accurate as finger sticks tests, he said.

All in all, Bequette said, there are many judgment calls and best guesses being made on a daily basis by individuals with Type 1 diabetes. And though medical technology for diabetes is very advanced and reliable, he is working on an artificial pancreas that would remove the need for most of this guesswork.

The device marries an insulin pump with a continuous blood glucose monitor, which work in conjunction with a feedback controller forming a "closed-loop." A diabetic would wear this device at all times, with a needle inserted just under the skin, in order to regulate his or her glucose levels. When the device senses the blood sugar getting high, it automatically administers insulin. Inversely, the device cuts off the insulin pump to avoid hypoglycemia.

The newest incarnation of this device includes optio

Contact: Michael Mullaney
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute

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