There has been a lot of buzz recently regarding Medtronic’s new 640G insulin pump. Released to the public in Australia this week, it is the first insulin pump to suspend insulin delivery when it predicts there will be a low blood sugar event (this differs from the 530G model which suspends when a low blood sugar level is reached.)
A real pancreas has two main functions that concern diabetics: to secrete insulin hormones to lower blood glucose levels, and to secrete glucagon hormones to raise blood sugar levels.
Medtronic’s 640G system does not deliver glucagon to raise levels. It simply turns off delivery of insulin until blood sugar levels [hopefully] return to normal. This system could fail in the situation that a meal was over-bolused for, resulting in too much insulin already being in the system and the liver not knowing to release extra glucose.
Also, the 640G system uses interstitial glucose levels through the use of CGM technology. This is a fundamentally flawed technology, with interstitial levels running 10-20 minutes behind real blood glucose levels. By the time a CGM thinks a low will be occurring, the person could have already been running low and dropping even lower for several minutes. Plus, I’ve experienced issues firsthand with compression lows (where the CGM registers a false low blood sugar reading due to the sensor/area around the sensor being compressed by laying on it, etc)
So is it an “artificial pancreas”? I don’t believe it is. And I’d go as far to say that using such a fabulist term only hinders advocacy efforts for type 1 diabetics. Is that a little grandiose of me? Maybe. But while it’s great that technology is moving forward, the number of people who have sent me links this week to these artificial pancreas news stories, honestly believing that I’ll be cured, or at least, much better off, is depressing.
Please don’t get me wrong. Progress is progress, and I’m thrilled for it and for the people it will help. But the bottom line is, the Medtronic 640G won’t significantly alter my life, and most lives of diabetics out there. It won’t cure any of us. It’s still imperfect technology and calling it an artificial pancreas is, in my opinion, highly misleading.
(And, I think it looks like an uglier version of the mid-2000’s iPods. But that’s irrelevant.) 🙂