People to Know 2015: Edward Damiano, PhD
After 10 years of research and one laser-focused goal—providing his type 1 son with a fully functioning bionic pancreas before he goes away to college—Edward Damiano, PhD, professor of biomedical engineering at Boston University, is on the brink of success. He recently unveiled his brainchild, the iLet bionic pancreas, which is slated for final pivotal trials in early 2017. If everything goes according to plan, his 16-year-old son, David, will have an FDA-approved iLet to take with him to college in two years.
The fully integrated system prototype works with three components directed through one handheld device: a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) receiver, two independent pumps (one delivers insulin, the other glucagon), and novel mathematical algorithm software. The user wears two infusion sets and a CGM sensor/transmitter. “It is able to automatically regulate blood glucose levels, and in a way that is totally compliant with the patient, rather than the other way around,” says Ed.
The greatest achievement of the bionic pancreas? Freedom. In studies, adults and kids who wore the device had better blood glucose control—without restrictions on diet and exercise. “Our device is robust enough that it can allow people to be spontaneous again,” Ed says.
His group is currently working with Massachusetts General Hospital and Stanford University to test the mechanism that allows users to adjust their own glucose targets on the device. To date, these outpatient studies have used a separate CGM and pump alongside an iPhone that runs the bionic pancreas software, but they plan to begin clinical trials using the all-in-one iLet with CGM sensor in the second half of 2016. Ed already has a manufacturer on board to create the device when it’s ready for production, hopefully in late 2018 or early 2019.
While Ed is excited about the promise of the bionic pancreas, he’s careful not to call it a cure—users are still connected to a device, after all. “It is a bridge to a cure,” he says. “And it will provide therapy for people with type 1 diabetes as long as necessary, or until a biological cure finally becomes available.”
Allison Tsai is the associate editor of Diabetes Forecast. She encourages spontaneity of all kinds—especially when it involves good food and travel.