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Diabetic North Texas 6-Year-Old Tests Bionic Pancreas

GRAPEVINE (CBSDFW.COM) -For a too-short while this summer, 6-year-old Elise Cunha of Grapevine got to be a kid.  Not just the kind that gets to swim and play.  But, that kind that gets to eat their food without weighing it—or worrying about it.  The kind that gets to eat—

"Oreos!" her parents, Fred and Joanne Cunha chime in with a laugh.

Elise is a Type 1 Diabetic—diagnosed shortly after her first birthday.  Last month, she became the youngest child in the country to take part in a clinical trial for a device that some have called 'the next best thing to a cure'… the bionic pancreas. 

Bionic Pancreas 4
(credit: CBS 11 News)

Bionic Pancreas 1
(credit: CBS 11 News)

(credit: CBS 11 News)


"There was no weighing of food and trying to figure out how many carbs she had," says Fred, "it just worked.  All they had to do was enter her weight."

The bionic pancreas checks blood sugar every five minutes and transmits the information to a special iPhone app.  The app figures out if the user needs insulin to lower blood sugar levels, or glucagon to raise it—and it's administered automatically through an injection site.

"To see her numbers when she was wearing the bionic pancreas and the numbers when she was wearing her own pump was night and day," says Joanne.  "It was incredible!"

Elise already wears a continuous glucose monitor.  Still, keeping her healthy, her parents say, requires around the clock care.

"At around 11 or midnight, and we check her again at 3 AM.  And those are just two checks, assuming everything is good.  And if things are not good, there are many more checks throughout the night."

Bionic Pancreas 4
(credit: CBS 11 News)

(credit: CBS 11 News)

For millions of type one diabetics and their parents, the Cunha's say the bionic pancreas promises more sleep—and less worry.          The clinical trial, they say, allowed Elise a few days of feeling 'almost normal'.  And they are anxious for her to have that feeling again.

"Everyone in the Type 1 community is just amazed at all this stuff's that's going on," says Fred. The bionic pancreas inventor is a father with a diabetic son.  Although the clinical trial is ongoing, the goal is to have the bionic pancreas available to the public by 2017.

"It's happening.  It's happening."

(©2014 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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