It’s been almost a year since we started using an insulin pump to treat my son Benny’s diabetes.  It was July 4th weekend last  year that we stopped giving him shots and began pumping insulin.  The pump has its own unique challenges but it’s a huge improvement over needles.

As we reach that milestone, I was very excited to read some great news stories about type I diabetes in the news this week.  I do believe we’ll have a cure for diabetes at some point during Benny’s life, but I’m not a pollyanna about a cure any time very soon.  Instead, I believe diabetes management will imrpove tremendsouly and that will come in just the next few years.

Here’s one way it’s all going to change – the artificial pancreas.  It’s not your traditional replacement organ.  This is mechanical and would sit outside the body.  It’s a marriage of two pieces of techniolgoy already being used by type I diabetics, many here in the Charlotte area.  A continuous glucose monitor keeps track of your blood sugar and an insulin pump delivers the right amount of insulin needed to keep those levels steady. 

The monitor, worn like a pager and connected to a sensor placed just under the skin, tells the patient whether levels are trending up or down. If levels reach dangerously high or low levels, it sounds an alarm.

The system already is in trials at centers in the United States and internationally. But researchers say it’ll likely be another five or so years, as component parts are improved and consolidated into a single package, before the realized vision is ready to hit the market.

There are a lot of skeptics – after all, we’ve been hearing about this type of system for a long time.  I’m very optimistic, though, and I’m very thankful for all of the people who’ve been working to test all the components of an articifal pancreas so that it will work when my son gets his!

Another cool story came out this week – something called the Sugarmobile.  It’s a car that monitors blood sugar.  The car, being developed by U.S. medical device firm Medtronic, flashes up blood sugar readings on a dashboard display so the driver can keep track of them without having to stop and take blood samples.

The new car, which went on display for the first time at the recent American Diabetes Association annual conference in San Francisco, could reduce the risk of diabetes-related crashes.  This uses the continuous glucose monitor I mentioned earlier.   Medtronic’s is called MiniMed.

When used in the car, the MiniMed would instead send the data to a screen on the dashboard via Bluetooth – the wireless system used in mobile phones to transmit music and picture files. A microchip inside the dashboard converts the readings into a display that is updated every few minutes.

Pretty cool stuff.   Makes thinking about my 3-year-old son someday driving a little easier to bear.  Okay, maybe just a little.