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Gizmorama - January 2, 2017

Good Morning,

Good news for diabetics! Researchers have developed a bionic pancreas which has shown success at controlling blood sugar.

Learn about this and more interesting stories from the scientific community in today's issue.

Until Next Time,

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*-- Bionic pancreas shows success at controlling blood sugar --*

BOSTON - The bionic pancreas system is proving better in clinical trials at controlling blood sugar levels in patients with type 1 diabetes without risk of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) than conventional or sensor-augmented insulin pump therapy, according to a new study.

Researchers at Boston University studied a group of type 1 diabetes patients over an 11-day period at their homes with no restrictions.

"For study participants living at home without limitations on their activity and diet, the bionic pancreas successfully reduced average blood glucose, while at the same time decreasing the risk of hypoglycemia," Dr. Steven Russell, Ph.D., of the Massachusetts General Hospital Diabetes Unit, said in a press release. "This system requires no information other than the patient's body weight to start, so it will require much less time and effort by health care providers to initiate treatment. And since no carbohydrate counting is required, it significantly reduces the burden on patients associated with diabetes management."

The bionic pancreas, which controls patients' blood sugar with both insulin and glucagon, a hormone that increases glucose levels, was developed by Edward Damiano, Ph.D., and Firas El-Khatib, Ph.D., of the BU Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The system consists of a smartphone that can wirelessly communicate with two pumps delivering insulin and glucagon. The smartphone received blood sugar readings from the continuous glucose monitor every five minutes, which it used to calculate and administer a dose of the insulin or glucagon.

There have been three previous trials of the bionic pancreas, a 2010 clinical trial showing that the original device maintained near-normal blood sugar levels for more than 24 hours in adult patients with type 1 diabetes, and a 2014 New England Journal of Medicine paper, which showed that an updated version of the system successfully controlled blood sugar levels in adults and adolescents for five days.

The third previous trial published in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology in 2016 showed the bionic pancreas could successfully control blood sugars in children as young as 6.

In the 2014 trial, minimal restrictions were placed on participants and the trial was conducted in controlled settings where participants were accompanied at all times by a nurse for the adult trial and at a diabetes camp for the adolescent and pre-adolescent trials.

For the current trial, participants had the option to enter carb counts into the smartphone for each meal to allow the system to deliver an insulin dose, but it wasn't required.

Results of the current trial showed that while wearing the bionic pancreas, participants' average blood glucose levels were significantly lower -- 141 mg/dl versus 162 mg/dl -- than when on standard treatment. Hypoglycemia levels (less than 60mg/dl) for 0.6 percent of the time while wearing the bionic pancreas compared to 1.9 percent with standard treatment.

"Patients with type 1 diabetes worry about developing hypoglycemia when they are sleeping and tend to let their blood sugar run high at night to reduce the risk," Russell, who is also an assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, said. "Our study showed that the bionic pancreas reduced the risk of overnight hypoglycemia to almost nothing without raising the average glucose level. In fact, the improvement in average overnight glucose was greater than the improvement in average glucose over the full 24-hour period."

The current clinical trial report was published in The Lancet.

*-- Cell wall 'glue' could make wooden skyscrapers possible --*

CAMBRIDGE, England - Scientists have discovered the secret to the strength of cell walls and the adhesive qualities of cellulose and xylan, two of nature's largest molecules. The discovery could inspire wooden skyscrapers and more sustainable paper production processes.

Cellulose and xylan are large, long molecules that give wood and straw their strength. They're also very hard to digest. Scientists knew the two molecules stick together inside the cell walls of plants, but had, until now, failed to figure out how.

"We knew the answer must be elegant and simple," lead researcher Paul Dupree, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Cambridge, said in a news release. "And in fact, it was."

"What we found was that cellulose induces xylan to untwist itself and straighten out, allowing it to attach itself to the cellulose molecule," Dupree explained. "It then acts as a kind of 'glue' that can protect cellulose or bind the molecules together, making very strong structures."

Scientists imaged the two molecules using solid state nuclear magnetic resonance. The technology is similar to hospital MRI scanners but requires carbon-13, a heavy carbon isotope. Scientists met the requirement by growing plants in an atmosphere rich in carbon-13 dioxide. The high-resolution imaging revealed the unique structures of the two molecules at nanoscale.

"By studying these molecules, which are over 10,000 times narrower than the width of a human hair, we could see for the first time how cellulose and xylan slot together and why this makes for such strong cell walls," said Ray Dupree, Paul's father and a researcher at the University of Warwick.

The discovery could help scientists make wood strong enough to support skyscrapers. The research could also help break down the two molecules.

"One of the biggest barriers to 'digesting' plants -- whether that's for use as biofuels or as animal feed, for example -- has been breaking down the tough cellular walls," Paul Dupree said. "Take paper production -- enormous amounts of energy are required for this process. A better understanding of the relationship between cellulose and xylan could help us vastly reduce the amount of energy required for such processes."

The new research was published in the Nature Communications.


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