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Artificial pancreas developed by U.Va. offers hope, relief to Type 1 diabetes patients

Artificial pancreas. (Photo: University of Virginia Health System)

WASHINGTON (WJLA) -Sixty-thousand people in the D.C. Metro region have Type 1 diabetes.

Now, the University of Virginia (U.Va.) has developed an artificial pancreas that can monitor and control blood sugar levels for patients.

ABC 7 News spoke with one local woman who is putting it to the test - preschool teacher Lesley Hurwitz.

In her classroom, she says there's never a dull moment, but her students aren't the only things that require constant attention - so does her Type 1 diabetes.

"Every time my sugar goes low, I will have to call in another teacher," she explained.

Diagnosed at age 10, Hurwitz - who is now 30 - has become accustomed to checking her blood sugar day and night.

"There's not a day that goes by, even when a child, that I don't remember to be thinking about my diabetes," she said.

But now, an artificial pancreas can do the math for her.

Hurwitz is testing the product for a U.Va. clinical trial, sponsored by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF).

It looks like a cell phone, but a device she uses tracks her blood sugar level using a continuous glucose monitor. That information is analyzed to dictate and control the delivery of insulin through a pump.

"This is groundbreaking," says Molly McElwee-Malloy, the U.Va. trial coordinator.

"The thing about the artificial pancreas is, it can take the worry out of [tracking your levels] for you," Malloy added.

Holding up the device, Malloy explained, "This is telling the insulin pump how much to inject and what time to inject it."

While this is Hurwitz's third clinical trial for the artificial pancreas, it's the first trial ever to let patients take it home.

"This is really exciting because I get to try it out in a real-world setting," Hurwitz said.

Researchers hope the artificial pancreas will be on the market within the next five years.

"I see, eventually, everyone with Type 1 diabetes having an artificial pancreas," Malloy said.

"I am so excited for everyone to use this," Hurwitz agreed. "It's just going to be so great, make so many lives less stressful."

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