ATLANTA — A new device is about to change the lives of children and adults living with Type 1 diabetes.
The breakthrough is so historic, patients and even doctors are getting emotional about it.
"I just am really looking forward to it," said 13-year-old Athens resident Mary Morgan Collier.
"We're ready for it now," added her mother Georgia.
The first thing Collier does each morning when she gets up is stick herself with a needle.
It's a process she says she repeats about six or seven times a day.
It has been the teenager's routine since doctors diagnosed her with Type 1 diabetes six years ago.
"It takes just a lot of responsibility," said her mother. "My daughter used to be a lot more carefree."
More than three million children and adults in the United States have Type 1 diabetes.
It's much different than Type 2, which usually is linked to obesity and can be reversed. Type 1 hits without warning, and has no known cause, and no cure.
"It's just really hard to have Type 1," said Collier.
The Artificial Pancreas
That soon could change because of a device called the Artificial Pancreas.
Experts call it the biggest breakthrough in Type 1 diabetes care since insulin was discovered in the 1920's.
The artificial pancreas system takes the human element, and the human error, out of the equation.
A sensor and insulin pump work together to continually check a diabetic's blood sugar and automatically set it at a normal range.
"So every minute, it's calculating how much insulin to give," said Dr. Bruce Bode of Atlanta Diabetes Associates. "If the glucose is going up, it gives a little more. If the glucose is going down, it gives less."
Bode is one of the top Type 1 diabetes doctors in the country. He's leading key tests on the artificial pancreas here in Atlanta.
"We are hoping to do all of our pivotal trials starting mid-summer this year,” said Bode. “We'll finish them by the end of the year, and we're hoping to gain some type of FDA approval in 2016.”
Metro Atlanta resident Kris Bagwell participated in early trials of the artificial pancreas five years ago at the University of Virginia.
"I felt like a new person. You can't underestimate the stress of fluctuating blood sugars and the mental stress of being your own pancreas," Bagwell said. "It's really, really difficult."
The film executive made a documentary about it for JDRF.
"It was astonishing,” said Bagwell. “My blood sugar was essentially flat for the first time in life, since I was diagnosed with diabetes.”
Type 1 diabetes is a 24-hour, 7-days a week job for the diabetic and parents. Every bit of food, every activity has to be monitored and can affect blood sugar.
Blood sugar also tends to dip dangerously low when a diabetic is asleep. Some can slip into comas or even die.
That's the reason why most parents of Type 1 diabetes don't sleep through the night after getting the diagnosis.
It's something former WSB-TV anchor John Pruitt knows all too well. He said he'll never forget Feb. 9, 1977. That's the day doctors diagnosed his daughter Kristina.
"One day we had an almost 3-year-old who was perfectly healthy with an unlimited future, and then suddenly with had an almost 3-year-old with an incurable disease," Pruitt said.
Kristina now is an adult with children of her own, but her dad knows the artificial pancreas will improve her life.
"It's going to bring great peace of mind, but more importantly, I think it's going to mean healthier diabetics," Pruitt said. "Because maintaining good control of your blood sugar is really the key to living a long and healthy life.”
Collier is looking forward to that peace of mind too.
"It would take a lot of stress off me and my parents and everyone who's looking out for me," she said.
Including Bode, whose passion for his patients always comes first. He got emotional just talking about it.
"It will change the whole way people manage diabetes,” said Bode. “Not only their family members, the individual, the health care provider, the teacher."
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