Dad Develops a Bionic Pancreas for Diabetic Son

Ed Damiano developed the bionic pancreas to help his son David, who has Type 1 diabetes.
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Ed Damiano developed the bionic pancreas to help his son David, who has Type 1 diabetes.
Ed and David Damiano

Photo Credit: Ellen Webber for NPR

Ed Damiano is the father to 15-year-old David. David has Type 1 diabetes, which forces him to sleep with a blood-sugar monitor. When his blood gets low, the monitor sends an alarm. If David's blood drops too low, there is a big risk of him dying in his sleep. 

bionic pancreas

Photo Credit: Ellen Webber for NPR

Ed is not satisfied with the current system in place, so he created the bionic pancreas to better help diabetics manage their blood sugar levels. He is currently trying to have the system approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before David heads off the college in three years. 

Ed, a biomedical engineering professor at Boston University, held a test with 52 teenagers and adults. He found that the bionic pancreas did a better job at controlling blood sugar than the participants did themselves.

"The bionic pancreas is a device that automatically takes care of your blood sugars 24/7," Ed said. "It's a device that comes to know you."

bionic pancreas

Photo Credit: Ellen Webber for NPR

Currently, the bionic pancreas is basically an iPhone app. The smartphone connects wirelessly to a blood sugar monitor that is worn taped to the abdomen. The monitor sends information to the app, and the app analyzes the information. If needed, the app can send signals to two pumps -- one which contains insulin and another that contains glucagon, a hormone that can raise blood sugar. 

Diabetes specialists at the National institute of Health and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, who have provided funding to Ed's research, are concerned that the bionic pancreas may be too complicated to work in practice. However, David has complete faith in his father's project.

"My whole life I've just known — just had this knowledge that my dad is going to have this bionic pancreas out when I go to college," David said. "I'm confident in him. He works really hard — really hard."