Jun 4, 2021 11:03 AM EST

Expert Thoughts About the Artificial Pancreas - We’re Not There Yet, But it’s a Good Step Forward

When the FDA approved the Medline 670G “hybrid closed loop system,” a lot of people were excited when it was marketed as the first “artificial pancreas. That was in 2017, but no one is excited about it anymore.

Expert Thoughts About the Artificial Pancreas - We’re Not There Yet, But it’s a Good Step Forward

Calling the Medline 670G an artificial was a mistake on the part of the Type 1 Diabetes Advocacy groups and the media. It was never intended to take over the constant work of blood sugar monitoring and insulin administration, and it certainly doesn’t cure diabetes.

However, the Medline 670G remains a landmark success because when considered in light of the incremental value of its technology in solving the diabetes puzzle. The journey to a working artificial pancreas has started, but we’re not there yet

What is the Medline 670G?

The system called the Medline 670G is an automatic glucose control system that uses a sophisticated algorithm to deliver the right amount of insulin based on data from a separate sensor. The underlying technology has been available for a while, but the algorithm is the game-changer here.

The Medline 670G was first developed by researchers at the University of Virginia’s Center for Diabetes Technology. It integrates a glucose sensor, an insulin pump, and the aforementioned smart algorithm. The programming automatically monitors blood glucose levels and determines how to administer insulin.

Why the Medline 670G is Important on the Road to a Real Artificial Pancreas and how does it work?

The closed-loop glucose monitoring system achieved massive success in a 6-month clinical trial, whose results were published in the New England Journal of Medicine. In summary, the test involved 168 participants with type-1 diabetes and showed that the system significantly increased the amount of time the patients were in the target range of blood glucose.

More importantly, no severe hypoglycemia occurred among those that used the device, although it did malfunction in one of the cases and lead to diabetic ketoacidosis. This is a fantastic result that showed increased effectiveness and safety when it comes to the management of type-1 diabetes.

When compared to traditional methods of controlling blood glucose levels, the system was shown to be especially effective because it maintains vigilance throughout the day or night. With an alarm system to warn against hypoglycemia, it is a big step on the path to a “hands-free” management of diabetes type-1.

Why the Artificial Pancreas Stills Needs a Lot of Work

Unfortunately, the Medline 670G doesn’t live up to the promise of a true artificial pancreas. When you hear about an artificial organ such as a heart or pancreas, you expect a fully functional device that requires minimal intervention from the user.

 The Medline closed-loop system only administers basal insulin, leaving the calculation and administration of bolus insulin to the patient. It also requires the patient to keep taking blood samples using finger pricks to read blood glucose levels and keep the sensor calibrated. If you have been keeping a blood sugar logbook, the system will not replace it.

For some patients, the deal-breaker is the fact that the insulin administration is done via a catheter in the belly. That just means another more painful device attached to the body that runs the risk of producing scar tissue buildup.

Even assuming all these issues were solved, the closed-loop system is not 100% reliable. For a device that diabetic patients literally bet their lives on, even a failure of 1 in 1000 is significant. There have been issues reported with inaccurate blood glucose readings and failed administration of insulin, which could put lives at risk.

Even if patients could live with these shortcomings in exchange for not having to wake up every few hours at night, the cost is still prohibitive. When the device was launched, it was priced at about $7,000. With insurance taking some of the load, out-of-pocket costs are still in the order of $1,000.

The equipment also requires expensive maintenance and supplies, not to mention the prohibitive cost of insulin today. There just isn’t a good enough reason for diabetes type-1 patients to invest in the Medline 670G “artificial pancreas,” yet.

The Medline Closed-Loop System Sets the Pace

From a technological point of view, the Medline closed-loop system is a critical development on the way to a truly autonomous artificial pancreas. The algorithm could be the platform that another team of researchers will use to refine the technology. There are more than 10 independent research teams and institutions working on this very exciting technology, and there is hope that we will see the holy grail of diabetes management systems in a few years’ time.

In the meantime, you can adopt the convenience of the latest technology by investing in a top-notch glucose meter. The latest technology allows better than 95% accuracy in blood glucose detection, giving you the tools to live a more fulfilled life. Learn more about how you can get a free Contour Next USB meter here.