Space Age Implantable Insulin Pumps

In 1986 Sam Zaccari, now almost seventy, had one of the first implantable insulin pumps surgically placed inside his body. In 1998 he said, "It's wonderful because without this technology that we got today I wouldn't have the control I have and maybe I might not be here."

Zaccari's insulin pump, made of titanium, was developed in part from the technology of the mechanical robot arm of the first space probe sent to Mars. The pump had a similar design to the portion of the arm the Viking spacecraft used to touch the Martian soil for experiments.

Zaccari's pump was computerized and allowed him to have more precise control of his blood glucose. He knew how important this control was, since his mother, brother, and sister had died from the complications of their diabetes. Having his pump meant he could live a more normal life and avoid their fate. Today, this Baltimore resident, nicknamed the Iron Man for his strength and longevity, still takes daily walks and has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for diabetes research. He believes he could not have done this without his implantable insulin pump.

Quoted in Dan Rutz, "From Pacemakers to Braces, the Medical Benefits of Space Exploration," CNN, November 2, 1998. index.html.

to continually monitor blood glucose, an insulin pump, and a small computer that controls insulin delivery.

Insulin pumps are already in common use. The most difficult part of the device to make is the glucose sensor. None made so far offer consistently accurate results.

An artificial pancreas began undergoing tests in France in 2003. The sensor is placed in a neck vein, and it communicates with the implantable pump in the abdomen by using a wire un der the skin. The pump then releases the right amount of insulin.

Results were good, with the device automatically keeping the person's blood sugar in the normal range more than half the time (although this needs to be improved) and with the risk of hypoglycemia falling to under 5 percent. The biggest problem is that the sensors stop working inside the body after about nine months and have to be replaced. This means the person using it has to undergo minor surgery again every time a replacement is needed. The sensor needs to be made out of better materials that can withstand the environment inside the body, so scientists are working on that. They believe that a safe, workable artificial pancreas will be available within the next few years.

An X-ray of the chest of a diabetic with an artificial pancreas reveals a sensor wire (left) attached to a vein in the neck that is connected to an implanted insulin pump (not seen).

An X-ray of the chest of a diabetic with an artificial pancreas reveals a sensor wire (left) attached to a vein in the neck that is connected to an implanted insulin pump (not seen).

Supplements For Diabetics

Supplements For Diabetics

All you need is a proper diet of fresh fruits and vegetables and get plenty of exercise and you'll be fine. Ever heard those words from your doctor? If that's all heshe recommends then you're missing out an important ingredient for health that he's not telling you. Fact is that you can adhere to the strictest diet, watch everything you eat and get the exercise of amarathon runner and still come down with diabetic complications. Diet, exercise and standard drug treatments simply aren't enough to help keep your diabetes under control.

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