BOSTON (CBS) – At first glance it looks like any other summer camp: boys playing sports, horsing around, and hiking through the mud. But this is Camp Joslin, a camp specifically for kids with type 1 diabetes. And this year, the Charlton campers are also part of an experiment that many say will forever change the way diabetics manage their disease. Thirty-two kids are testing a bionic pancreas, the brain child of Ed Damiano. The biomedical engineer teamed up with colleagues at Boston University and Mass General Hospital. Ed is a motivated scientist but he’s also a father. His son, David, was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes as a baby. “It’s probably the single greatest concern a parent has…. is not only taking care of their kid at night but, how their kid is going to do that when they are on their own,” says Damiano.
For more than a decade now it’s been Ed’s only goal: to build a device that would not just track David’s blood sugar levels while he slept but manage them as well. All in time for David to go to college. “The bionic pancreas is so important to people with diabetes because it takes over the day-to-day challenges of managing blood sugars,” explains Damiano. Managing blood sugars means constantly calculating the right amount of insulin to take or carbs to eat. “Checking the blood sugar isn’t the hard part. The hard part is figuring out what to do with that information,” explains Dr. Steven Russell of Mass General Hospital. A mistake can be fatal. For kids with type 1 diabetes, running low in the middle of the night is the most common cause of death.
That’s where the bionic pancreas comes in. Using a continuous glucose monitor, blood sugar levels are checked every five minutes. That information is transmitted to a special iPhone app and the app figures out if the user needs a shot of insulin to lower blood sugar levels or glucagon to raise it. The bionic pancreas then delivers it through an injection site. “That allows a level of control that is really almost impossible to achieve on their own and it also provides a level of safety that’s really unprecedented,” says Dr. Russell.
The campers are excited to be part of this ground-breaking work. Colby Clarizia of Amesbury says this is the “closest thing to a cure that we have right now.” And Matt Quinlan or Rindge, New Hampshire is equally excited, “just to have this keep you stable throughout the day would just be absolutely life-changing.” David, the inspiration for this device, is impressed by his dad’s determination. “I don’t think many people would be able to do that,” he says, “to be so dedicated to this.” The bionic pancreas team is hopeful the device will win FDA approval by 2017, just in time for David to head off to college.