Posted November, 2022 | Updated June, 2023
According to the American Diabetes Association, approximately 1.4 million people in the US are diagnosed with diabetes each year. Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects how the body turns food into energy. For people with type 1 diabetes, their bodies struggle to produce insulin, which causes blood levels to rise and leads to adverse health effects.
While there is currently no cure, BU professor Ed Damiano is on a quest to help those who suffer from type 1 diabetes. Damiano’s journey began more than 20 years ago when his son, David (now a BU alumnus) was diagnosed at 11 months old. As a parent to a child with diabetes, Damiano quickly learned about the disease and the limited medical expertise available. Frustrated by the lack of information, Damiano took matters into his own hands. After years of research, he co-founded the socially-minded corporation, Beta Bionics, in 2015 to develop a new device for diabetes patients—the bionic pancreas.
For people with type 1 diabetes, the pancreas cannot produce enough insulin to convert blood sugars into energy. Typically, patients have to constantly check their blood levels and then inject insulin themselves in order to manage their health. The bionic pancreas, named the iLet, is a wearable device that automates insulin delivery so that people with diabetes don’t have to manage blood sugar levels on their own. By automating the process, the bionic pancreas can give more peace of mind to both diabetes patients and parents of young kids who struggle with the disease. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that the bionic pancreas managed blood sugar levels better than existing methods of care.
According to BU Technology Development managing director, Michael Pratt (Questrom’13), “[The bionic pancreas] is paving a new path not just in the science of diabetes treatment, but also in showing that it is possible to be a mission-oriented organization and raise the capital necessary to fully develop a complex medical device.”
In 2019, Damiano’s company made huge strides by raising $126 million dollars to bring the device into the market. Finally, in May 2023, the iLet Bionic Pancreas was cleared by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for people six years and older with type 1 diabetes. Damiano’s device is offering new hope to those who suffer from diabetes, and his family’s story continues to bring awareness to a disease that affects so many across the world.