Current research studies at Legacy are focused on the development of an "artificial pancreas", a completely automated system of controlling blood glucose. "The integrated systems under development are considered 'closed loop' because they are completely automated, requiring no human intervention. Because glucose monitoring and insulin dose calculations are both carried out by a computer program on a continuous basis, blood glucose levels are well-controlled" says Ken Ward, MD, the principal investigator for these studies.
Both high blood sugar (hyperglycemia) and low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) are of concern for people with diabetes. Historically, people with type 1 diabetes have needed to monitor their blood glucose on a frequent basis through blood samples obtained by a skin puncture or finger prick. The results of those tests are then used to calculate the proper amount of insulin to self inject. For many reasons, it is sometimes difficult to fully comply with this regimen to maintain optimal blood glucose levels.
In recent years, however, electronic monitors have become available to continuously monitor glucose and elicit data that can be used to adjust insulin delivery by insulin pumps, minimizing the hassle of insulin injections and delivering insulin on a continuous basis. While this technology has provided more convenience and better control of blood sugar, it still requires human intervention to interpret the data and to manually give commands to the insulin pumps for proper dosage.
What is needed to 'close the loop' is a device that continuously senses what the body needs, and then responds by providing the appropriate dose of insulin, an automated system requiring no human interaction. Developing that device that is programmed with the correct mathematical formula (algorithm) to make those calculations is at the center of Dr. Ward's research.
Studies planned by Dr. Ward and colleagues will take this new paradigm in diabetes management one step further. Although insulin is crucial to offset hyperglycemic blood levels, hypoglycemia is also a concern for people with diabetes and can be controlled by glucagon. The experimental system is composed of a continuous blood glucose monitor and a pump that has reservoirs of both insulin and glucagons.
Dr. Ward has active collaborations with investigators from Oregon Health and Science University, and his research is funded by the JDRF, the Legacy Good Samaritan Foundation, and other grantmakers.
W. Kenneth Ward, MD
For more information:
W. Kenneth Ward, MD
Director, Diabetes Research,Legacy Research Institute
1225 N.E. Second Ave.
Portland, OR 97232