"Artificial Pancreas" For Some Diabetics

Early Show segment on Medical Miracles, Thursday, Aug. 7, 2008. CBS

A device being tested may bring hope to many people who have diabetes. It's called the "artificial pancreas," and it can deliver insulin without the involvement of the patient.

Julie Ann Ressler is a busy mom, a doctor, and a Type 1 diabetic who depends on insulin to keep her blood sugar stable. She pricks her finger six-to-10 times a day to determine her levels.

She takes her blood sugar meter with her everywhere she goes, 365 days a year.

Based on those readings, Ressler calculates how much insulin should be delivered through her insulin pump. She makes constant adjustments, based on food, exercise and stress levels. She's always thinking about diabetes.

"I am aware of it when I am driving. I am aware of it when I am playing with my kids," and she says, "I have to remember to take insulin before I eat."

At the City of Hope Hospital in Los Angeles, a device meant to help diabetics control blood sugar levels automatically is being tried. It's called the artificial pancreas.

Over a 36-hour period, a sensor attached to her abdomen monitors blood sugar levels continuously, sending information to a sophisticated computer program that determines how much insulin is delivered through her pump. Ressler doesn't have to do a thing.

"The patient loves that because it really takes tremendous pressure off their shoulders," says Dr. Fouad Kandeel, director of the Department of Diabetes, Endocrinology & Metabolism at City of Hope.

The device, if approved, could be available in the next five-to-10 years.

But for now, patients like Ressler say they feel lucky to have even a few days without the burden of constant calculations.

For excellent diabetes-related resources:

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation International

  • City of Hope, OR CALL City of Hope's Diabetes Department at 626-471-9260.
    • CBSNews