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Implantable device senses low glucose, delivers insulin

PHOENIX – The American Diabetes Association estimates nearly 1.25 million Americans have Type 1 diabetes. 

Scientists at the University of Arizona are developing an implantable device that senses low glucose and delivers insulin. 

Rebecca Ruiz Hudman uses a glucose monitor, insulin pump and insulin sensor to control her Type 1 diabetes. 

"It might make you sleepy if you're too high, or it might make you shaky and jittery and obviously go into a coma if you're too low. So, it's this constant battle," Hudman said. 

Even with state-of-the-art technology, Hudman's glucose levels go too high and too low. 

In Type 1 diabetes, the immune system destroys insulin-producing islet cells, so the pancreas can't regulate blood sugar. 

Klearchos Papas, director of the Institute for Cellular Transplantation at the University of Arizona, is developing a "tea bag" device to take over. 

"The tea bag actually separates the immune system from the cells and protects them without the need of special drugs that immunosuppress your system," Papas said.

That's especially important for kids. Scientists get islet cells from a cadaver pancreas, isolate and evaluate them, then put them in a Teflon-coated tea bag.

"It allows glucose to go in, so these cells can sense it as they do in the pancreas, and it allows insulin to come out, so it can actually be effective in the tissues that need it," Papas said. 

It worked in small animals and is now being tested in large ones. Papas said the tea bag is small because he figured out how to oxygenate it through a tube and needs fewer cells. 

Papas hopes to use lab-grown islet cells from stem cells to make the procedure more cost-effective and efficient for widespread use. 

He's also trying to see whether several small tea bags or one larger tea bag work best. 

Papas said grants from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation and the National Institutes of Health should push the project into clinical trials in two or three years.