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Medtronic device breakthrough for future 'artificial pancreas'

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In what doctors are saying is a major step toward helping Type 1 diabetics, Medtronic has developed a pump device that many believe will one day lead to an "artificial pancreas."

The results of a study featuring the MiniMed Integration System device made by the Fridley-based company were unveiled Saturday at an American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago. They also were published online by the New England Journal of Medicine.

“This is the first step in the development of the artificial pancreas,” Dr. Richard Bergenstal, diabetes chief at Park Nicollet, a large clinic in St. Louis Park, tells the Washington Post. “Before we said it’s a dream. We have the first part of it now and I really think it will be developed.”

Johnson & Johnson unveiled a similar device and results at the conference, reports Bloomberg.

As many as 3 million Americans have type 1 diabetes, in which the immune system destroys cells in the pancreas that make insulin.

Type 1 diabetes must monitor their blood sugar and take insulin several times a day. Too little insulin can cause high blood sugar, increasing the risk of long-term complications such as eye damage, kidney failure and heart disease.

Medtronic already sells insulin pumps with an automatic shutoff feature in 50 countries outside the United States, reports Reuters. The feature is meant to guard against delivering insulin to diabetics their blood sugar is already too low.

Next stop, a full artificial pancreas, which, as Reuters reports, has been dreamed about for decades, and many Type 1 diabetics consider the "Holy Grail."

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