Artificial pancreas? No, not really

670g-image-1KEY TAKEAWAY: Designed to make insulin delivery less of a hassle by automating it, the MiniMed 670G by Medtronic was called “revolutionary” and a game changer after the Food and Drug Administration approved it in September. But families like the Weddings say the device, slated to hit the market in spring 2017, has been incredibly overhyped.

For starters, it isn’t a true artificial pancreas — it only automates the delivery of one type of insulin — and patients who use it still have to do a lot to manage their condition. The device also does nothing to fix one of the most pressing problems facing the 1 million people with Type 1 diabetes in America: [inlinetweet prefix=”” tweeter=”” suffix=””]The cost of insulin is skyrocketing so much that some patients are being forced to cut back on or skip lifesaving dose[/inlinetweet]

The American Diabetes Association, which has been advocating for better technology to alleviate some of the burden of the around-the-clock diabetes management, called the device an incremental step. They are looking forward to a system that can provide both bolus and basal insulin “to provide optimal glucose control and independence for people with diabetes.”

According to Vox “”I think it’s misleading,” said Robert Vesco, a 37-year-old with Type 1 diabetes who was diagnosed 10 years ago. “The idea of an artificial pancreas suggests something similar to an artificial heart a fully autonomous device that requires no intervention from the patient. In contrast, this device requires lots of thinking about how much insulin to dose after a meal.”


Melinda Wedding agreed. “You still have to do a lot of the mental calculations involved, so it’s not fully automated and it’s not alleviating a lot of the decisions we make to treat our daughter,” she said.

A Medtronic spokesperson said the manufacturer is offering a discount program for people who sign up early, and that it expects the device to cost between $6,000 and $9,000, based on a patient’s payer and benefit plan.

The other issue is that many people do not like to wear two devices on their body which have to inserted everyday causing a lot of scar tissue.  “Insulin needles have become so small and easy  to carry so why should I spend so much money on a device that needs constant attention” said one patient I interviewed.  Another said “I don’t want any device that can eventually be hacked. I  like technology, but putting my life in the hands of a device is another story”.