I grew up around diabetes. Grandma Graff was a constant presence in our family. She was a practicing diabetic. She measured her food by the bite. Injections of insulin were like clockwork. To me, as a kid, she was diabetes. Her husband was also a diabetic but did not manage it well. I never met him. He died at 54. My father was diagnosed late in life and managed the disease quite well with finger pricking and injections.
When I heard the story Monday on National Public Radio about Ed Damiano’s obsession to build a viable robotic pancreas for his 15-year-old son David before he goes away to college, it really hit home.
Ed Damiano was an engineering professor when his son was diagnosed with Juvenile Diabetes at 11 months old. Some diabetic kids die sleeping in the middle of the night. Since the time David was diagnosed up until today, Ed has gotten up in the middle of the night to check if his son is still breathing. Ed has also put a monitor in David’s room, but the fear of the unexpected catastrophe has ruled his life. His wife Toby, a pediatrician, also knows the horrors of the illness only too well from her practice.
Ed moved away from academic life to focus on his obsession, building an artificial pancreas to keep his son alive and safe. His goal is to accomplish the feat before his son goes off to college.
His son’s pancreas cannot balance sugar and insulin for his body properly, so Damiano has developed a mechanical pump and system of measurement to act as a substitute organ which he calls a “bionic pancreas.”
The bionic pancreas is controlled by an App on the iPhone. It utilizes two small pumps mounted on the user’s body. A probe constantly monitors the user’s blood sugar level, then directs the pumps electronically to discharge the correct amount of insulin and glucagon to maintain proper levels. The bionic pancreas automatically makes a new decision for dosing every five minutes.
The device was tested on 52 diabetic teens and adults around the country and had great results. Now Ed has the go-ahead to let volunteers try it. Damiano is confident the bionic pancreas will be ready by the time David goes away to college.
I love this story because I have seen how uncontrolled body regulation can wreck lives. I love that the people in our medical industry who make creative devices like these often use turned metal parts of perfect dimensions coming off screw machines and CNC lathes.
The scourge of diabetes has not been cured, but because of the determined tinkering of Ed Damiano the day is approaching when a diabetic can almost live a normal life.
Question: Are U.S. regulators too tough or too easy on new medical products?
Read the original NPR story here.