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Experts say regular exercise and a healthy diet can help people manage type 1 diabetes. Azman Jaka/Getty Images
  • Researchers say newly developed bionic pancreas machines can help people with type 1 diabetes manage their blood sugar levels.
  • They also noted that the technology allows people with type 1 diabetes to avoid the daily finger pricks to measure blood sugar levels as well as having to operate an insulin pump.
  • Experts add that people can also manage type 1 diabetes with regular exercise and a healthy, carbohydrate-conscious diet along with the insulin they need to stay alive.

People with type 1 diabetes using a bionic pancreas had greater blood sugar stability than those who used their usual insulin delivery method.

That’s according to a study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Kidney Digestive and Diseases (NIDDK) and published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The trial lasted 13 weeks and was conducted at 16 clinical sites across the United States. There were 326 participants, ranging in age from 6 to 79. All had type 1 diabetes and had been using insulin for at least one year.

“The relatively long-term, 13-week trial provides convincing evidence that the bionic pancreas is effective and safe for managing type 1 diabetes,” said Dr. Qin Yang, the medical director at the UCI Health Diabetes Center in California. “This technology represents the closest to the fully automated artificial pancreas for type 1 diabetic patients.”

The researchers randomly assigned participants to two groups. One used a bionic pancreas. The other was a control group receiving an insulin delivery method.

A bionic pancreas is an automated insulin delivery system. It tracks the user’s blood sugar through a continuous glucose monitor. It sends insulin based on the readings, so users receive the amount of insulin needed.

Before using it the first time, the user enters their weight into the system’s dosing software.

The system replaces testing blood sugars via a finger prick, multiple daily injections, operating an insulin pump, and counting carbohydrates. Healthcare professionals do not need to adjust the settings as the system is automated.

The results of the trial included:

  • The participants using the bionic pancreas experienced an average decrease in their A1C levels from 7.9% at the beginning of the trial to 7.3% at the end. Glycated hemoglobin is the measurement of a person’s long-term blood glucose control. Meanwhile, A1C levels in the control group did not change from 7.7%
  • Those using the bionic pancreas spent an average of 2.5 more hours per day within the targeted blood glucose range than the control group. However, this difference was not statically significant.

The results were similar across the board, no matter the age.

Improvements in blood sugar were most significant in the participants who had higher blood sugar levels at the beginning of the study.

“This equipment would work well for those who prefer minimal involvement, especially for uncontrolled type 1 diabetic patients. The equipment requires minimal patient involvement,” Yang told Healthline.

“Patients will still need to wear an insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM),” he added. “They should watch for infusion-set failure and the CGM sensor malfunction. It is also essential that patients do not get a false sense of security as relaxation in lifestyle could potentially worsen diabetes control.”

In the study, the most frequently reported adverse reaction was hyperglycemia, or high blood sugar, commonly caused by problems with the insulin pump, not the system. However, there were few reports of hypoglycemia. The small number of reports of either hyper- or hypoglycemia indicates the system is appropriately adjusting to provide the correct insulin dose, researchers said.

“The bionic pancreas is an exciting new technology that provides glucose control for those with type 1 diabetes,” said Leslie Hussey, Ph.D., RN, CNE, an academic residency coordinator in the Nursing Ph.D. Program at the College of Nursing at Walden University in Minnesota.

“This condition is a disease of vigilance where the person needs to carefully monitor blood glucose levels that can swing high or low very easily,” Hussey told Healthline. “Prolonged high blood glucose levels can cause damage to major organs such as the heart, kidneys, eyes, etc. Having tight or good blood sugar control helps prevent high and low blood sugar levels and long-term complications.”

“The bionic pancreas is designed to make managing type 1 diabetes easier,” she continued. “It automatically responds to blood sugar levels when needed and constantly monitors them. Managing blood sugar and keeping the levels within a normal range decreases the incidences of hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia and long-term complications.”

A Medtronic 670G bionic pancreas costs between $7,000 and $8,000. The typical out-of-pocket expense for people with insurance coverage is slightly more than $1,000. The user must also pay for the pump and recurring supplies.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong disease.

Monitoring blood sugar and taking insulin is one part of the management. Still, a healthy lifestyle, including regular exercise and a healthy diet, can help a person keep their blood sugar levels where they should be.

Caroline Thomason, a dietician and diabetes educator based in Virginia, offers the following tips for managing type 1 diabetes:

  • You don’t have to go low carb, but you will have to be more carbohydrate conscious. Start by tracking your food and getting a good idea of what you’re eating patterns tend to be like throughout the day.
  • Use “nutrition by addition” before you just start cutting things out. This means adding to your plate to help create more balance at meals. Adding protein, plenty of vegetables for color and fiber, and a serving of healthy fat will help balance blood sugar even without decreasing the total amount of carbs you eat.

“Carbs play a huge role in blood sugar control, but there are so many other aspects of lifestyle that help us keep blood sugar stable,” Thomason told Healthline. “Don’t forget things like quality sleep, stress management, exercise, general activity throughout the day, and medications that contribute to blood sugar management.”