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Why the FDA’s approval of the Artificial Pancreas holds promise

On Wednesday, September 28, 2016, the FDA announced its approval of Medtronic’s “artificial pancreas,” and the T1D community rejoiced.

Type 1 Diabetes is an autoimmune disease for which there currently is no cure. Medical professionals cannot explain its onset, but they can agree the immune system attacks and kills the pancreas’ insulin-producing beta cells. Type 1 Diabetes is not attributed to diet nor lifestyle, and the patient is completely reliant upon insulin supplementation to digest their carb intake.

Two years ago, our lives changed when Madelyn, then 3, was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Since then, she has transitioned from supplementing insulin with a syringe to an insulin pen to the insulin pump. We’ve tried two different continuous glucose monitoring systems to help control her blood sugar levels. We’ve participated in and fundraised for the JDRF ONE Walk, which remains one of the main donation channels to fund these incredible breakthroughs.

The Medtronic MiniMed 670G hybrid closed loop system is comprised of an insulin pump, a CGM and smart software to automate the delivery of the right amount of insulin at the right time. The clinical trials showed that especially at night, the most dangerous time for blood sugar highs and lows, diabetics had much better control. By the trial’s end, participants saw a drop in their A1C from 7.4% to 6.9%.

When I read these reports, I teared up.

I would consider this to be a very important step towards finding a cure for Type 1 Diabetes.

But most of all, when I considered what this would mean for my daughter, I was overjoyed by its potential.

Even with such promising results to come from the trials and the FDA’s approval, Nick and I have not yet decided to alter how we currently manage Madelyn’s diabetes. This is still a very new system, one that health insurance companies have yet to add to their coverage criteria.

What has this breakthrough done for us?
It has given us such a wonderful increase in hope that I cannot being express it with words. Our fundraising with JDRF was the catalyst to this. And at the end of the month when Madelyn visits her endocrinologist at her quarterly appointment, we will begin the conversation that will personalize this new technology for her needs. Just knowing there could be something better out there that could improve Madelyn’s health and well-being is enough for me to consider a transition, of course; but it has to be the right one for her.

How does Madelyn manage her diabetes?
Madelyn currently uses the Metronic MiniMed 530G insulin pump with a Dexcom CGM. Her previous A1C reading stood at 7% (down from 10% since starting insulin pump therapy) and we will receive an updated result at her next appointment later this month.

Why is the Artificial Pancreas such a celebrated advancement?
Particularly scary for diabetics, blood sugar levels can plummet drastically during the night. Because they’re asleep, they are unable to catch and correct this, potentially causing them to fall into a coma. Many don’t wake up. The reverse is also true, that a diabetic’s blood sugar levels can climb dangerously high and cause diabetic ketoacidosis. The artificial pancreas could help prevent both by automating insulin control.

The reason the T1D community rejoices over this approval, is because of the promise it holds. With each advancement, each research publication, each fundraiser, each approval - the medical community has stepped up and promised the world's diabetics - a better way is out there. A cure is out there. By taking this journey one step at a time, we've all come a long way and the view of the summit comes in just a little more clear.

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