New Brunswick

Saint John woman tests one of Atlantic Canada's first 'artificial pancreases'

New technology mimics some of the functions of a healthy pancreas by adjusting insulin levels every five minutes.

Alicia Hunt has been struggling to manage her Type 1 diabetes for years

Alicia Hunt of Saint John is one of the first people in Atlantic Canada to try the new artificial pancreas insulin pump. (Submitted by Alicia Hunt)

Alicia Hunt is one of the first people in Atlantic Canada to begin using new insulin pump technology dubbed the artificial pancreas. 

The Saint John mother has had trouble managing her Type 1 diabetes for years, despite best efforts by her and her doctors.

This new pump technology is giving her more freedom and regulating her blood sugar levels better than anything else has, after only three weeks using it, Hunt said.

"Literally, within half an hour of switching to this pump, my blood sugars were down in my target range," she said.

Hunt's doctor, John Dornan said the pump's software mimics an "artificial pancreas" by delivering insulin based on real-time blood sugar levels. Dornan is an endocrinologist and chief of staff at the Horizon Health Network.

 "It's better than what we can do ourselves in terms of responding to blood sugars."

This new technology adjusts insulin levels every five minutes, which allows the user to stay in a healthy blood sugar level range.

It was approved by Health Canada in the fall of 2018.

Traditional insulin pumps, which have been around for over 20 years, deliver insulin at a predetermined rate. 

The Medtronic MiniMed 670G insulin pump system is the first self-adjusting insulin pump to be licensed in Canada. (Submitted by Alicia Hunt)

Dornan said the ideal patient for the artificial pancreas pump is someone who has had trouble controlling glucose levels and is motivated and willing to follow instructions.

Hunt said that in the months leading up to switching to the new pump it was difficult to keep her blood sugar levels stable, and she felt sick all the time, which made raising her young daughter all the more challenging.

Now she gets to experience the novelty of feeling good when she wakes up in the morning, and having more energy, she said.

Despite the difference in technology, Hunt said her new artificial pancreas pump looks very similar to the old ones —  about the size of a wallet but a little bit thicker, with a clip for attaching to her belt or waistband.

"As a diabetic who is a previous pump user, it's very user-friendly."

With files from Information Morning Saint John