The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has announced that is funding four last-stage clinical trials of artificial pancreas devices, which automate blood sugar control for people with type 1 diabetes. If the trials go well, the groups could seek approval from federal authorities.
These are the latest steps in a race to make a device that eliminates the need for daily finger pricks and careful blood sugar control for people with the condition. There have been promising recent developments: In October, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first artificial pancreas device in the United States, which monitors a person's blood sugar levels and automatically provides insulin if needed. However, people using that device still need to manually request more insulin after they eat.
The ideal device would require no human input whatsoever, which is what the four new studies are testing this year and next. The devices vary in approach, but all aim to limit the amount of time a person with diabetes, or their caregiver, has to manage changes in blood sugar levels.
One of the studies slated to begin in mid-2018 will be led by Dr. Steven Russell of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston and Ed Damiano of Boston University. It will enroll 312 people ages 18 and older who will spend six months testing a bionic pancreas, which uses both insulin and another hormone called glucagon to keep levels stable throughout the day.
Damiano began developing his bionic pancreas after his son was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, as TIME explained in a 2015 profile. Damiano says he wants the device approved so his son doesn't have to constantly think about managing his disease.
“For many people with type 1 diabetes, the realization of a successful, fully automated artificial pancreas is a dearly held dream," said Dr. Griffin Rodgers, director of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, in a statement. "Nearly 100 years since the discovery of insulin, a successful artificial pancreas would mark another huge step toward better health for people with type 1 diabetes.”