In just one year in 2013 around 79,000 children were diagnosed with type 1 diabetes: an autoimmune disorder that affects the amount of insulin produced by the pancreas. Getting insulin therapy via a traditional pump or injections necessitates putting in lot of work to make sure blood sugar levels are safe, especially during the night. This workload is likely to get reduced. The latest news is that a 4-year-old boy from Australia was fitted with the world’s first commercially-available artificial pancreas which automatically regulates the boy’s insulin levels. It’s being considered a tremendous step forward.

This device will manage insulin output, thus will enable diabetics who normally test their blood sugar up to eight times a day — do so less frequently.

This device was received by Perth resident Xavier Hames, from Princess Margaret Hospital for Children; the boy was just 22 months old when he started receiving treatment for his diabetes, from the institution. Since several years clinical trials for the device have been carrying on here — and Xavier is the first person to receive the pump commercially, which is available for AUS$10,000 (US$8,100).

A sensor in the artificial pancreas gets to read blood sugar levels and conveys to the pump, which is connected to the body underneath the skin to administer the insulin. This new technology is different from traditional pumps —– it does not deliver a constant stream of insulin to the body. Rather, the artificial pancreas puts to use an algorithm to track blood sugar levels over time, anticipating when insulin is no longer needed. Thus, helps to cut down the risk of dangerously low blood sugar levels, known as hypoglycemia.

Typical symptoms of hypoglycemia attack include sweating or fatigue, however, if case is serious weakness, temporary unconsciousness, organ damage, coma, or death can occur. These usually happen while the person is asleep, (and therefore not eating) because the insulin is still working in their body, causing blood sugar to come down to dangerously low levels. Diabetics fail to get a good night’s sleep – as they have to wake up a number of times each night in order to monitor their blood sugar.

Professor Tim Jones from Princess Margaret Hospital said, ”The majority of hypoglycemic attacks happen at night when a person is asleep and they might not be able to react or recognize the attack.” He further added: ”This device can predict hypoglycemia before it happens and stop insulin delivery before a predicted event. This, coupled with the fact that the pump automatically resumes insulin when glucose levels recover, is a real medical breakthrough.”

Xavier’s mother feels that this device will greatly impact her son’s day-to-day life. As the pump stops administering insulin automatically, Xavier (and his parents) will be able to sleep more soundly when he would normally be at risk for hypoglycemia. Furthermore, it will also let him act more like a kid and sometimes indulge in high carbohydrate foods like pasta or snack foods. As the device is waterproof Xavier can wear it in the bathtub or while swimming.

Note (1/23/2015 11:58 MST): A few sources are claiming this device is not a genuine artificial pancreas owing to its inability to regulate hyperglycemia without user input as well. Others are confident that it certainly qualifies as it’s the first device to automatically monitor blood glucose and alter insulin levels; a substantial technological and medical goal. Nonetheless, still a lot of work remains to be done in this field, and a device capable of tracking blood sugar and delivering the necessary amount of insulin completely autonomously is the ultimate goal.