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U.K. researchers unveil an artificial pancreas they’ve been developing for 20 years

Twenty years after setting out to create an implantable artificial pancreas to treat diabetes, a pharmacy professor at De Montfort University in Leicester, England, says she’ll be ready to begin human trials of the device in 2016, according to a press release from the university. Her name is Joan Taylor, and if she succeeds, she’ll be joining a burgeoning market for insulin pumps worn or carried externally, which companies ranging from startups to giants like Johnson & Johnson ($JNJ) and Medtronic ($MDT) are marketing as alternatives to painful insulin injections.

De Montfort’s artificial pancreas–Courtesy De Montfort U.

The De Montfort insulin pump is about the size of a wristwatch and surgically implanted into the abdomen, unlike most rival technologies, which are worn externally and connected to insulin-delivery devices under the skin. The pump contains gel that releases insulin in response to rising glucose levels, and it is attached by a small tube to a refill port just under the skin. Patients will only need to refill the device by injection every two weeks, according to a story in the Daily Mail. “The device will not only remove the need to manually inject insulin, but will also ensure that perfect doses are administrated each and every time,” Taylor told the publication.

Regardless of whether such technologies are surgically implanted or worn outside the body, they are increasingly being referred to as “artificial pancreases” because they are designed to regulate blood-glucose levels automatically, eliminating the need for patients to inject insulin up to four times daily. The market has been heating up lately, led by Minnesota device maker Medtronic, which won FDA approval in September for its MiniMed 530G, a pump that automatically stops delivering insulin based on a preset minimum threshold, thereby lowering the risk of hypoglycemia–a potentially dangerous drop in blood glucose levels.

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Other companies that are perfecting artificial pancreas systems include J&J’s Animas division, and Becton Dickinson ($BDX), which teamed up with the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation last June to develop a new insulin-delivery device.

And in November, insulin pump developer Tandem Diabetes Care hauled in $120 million in an initial public offering, $20 million more than the San Diego company expected to raise. Tandem ($TNDM) plans to use the money to develop a high-capacity insulin pump called t:flex, which will include continuous glucose monitoring technology, according to regulatory filings.


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