Researchers Play Key Role in Development of ‘Closed Loop’ Artificial Pancreas

Engineering researchers at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute are combining automation techniques from oil refining and other diverse areas to help create a closed-loop artificial pancreas, according to a press release. The device will automatically monitor blood sugar levels and administer insulin to patients with Type 1 diabetes, and aims to remove much of the guesswork for those living with the chronic disease.

For 6 years, Professor B. Wayne Bequette, a member of the department of chemical and biological engineering at Rensselaer, has been creating progressively more advanced computer control systems for a closed-loop artificial pancreas.

“Every single person with Type 1 diabetes has a different response to insulin and a different response to meals,” Bequette stated in the release. “These responses also vary with the time of day, type of meal, stress level and exercise. A successful automated system must be safe and reliable in spite of these widely varying responses.”

The device marries an insulin pump with a continuous blood glucose monitor, which work in conjunction with a feedback controller – forming a “closed-loop.” A person with diabetes would wear this device at all times, with a needle inserted just under the skin, in order to regulate his or her glucose levels. When the device senses the blood sugar getting high, it automatically administers insulin. Inversely, the device cuts off the insulin pump to avoid hypoglycemia.

The newest incarnation of this device includes options for users to input their carbohydrate intake. Bequette said this should greatly boost the accuracy, reliability and predictive capability of the device. The device will still function if users forget to input their meal information.

At the heart of this closed-loop artificial pancreas are Bequette’s algorithms. The computer code makes predictions based on data inputs, including blood glucose levels and carbohydrates. Bequette employs model predictive control and state estimation techniques, which he used in his research in controlling traditional chemical processes, such as oil refining. These methods are able to extract more meaningful, predictive data from blood glucose monitoring, and other critical aspects of the artificial pancreas, according to the release.

Bequette’s work is funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), along with the NIH.

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