Insulin pills and robotic pancreas: a revolution in diabetes care

Robotics and medicine are working more and more in unison, so much so that biomedical engineering is making enormous strides, especially in Italy. After “Cogitor”, the first all-Italian liquid robot , another surprising invention, still Italian, comes from the Institute of BioRobotics of the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa . A research group has created the first fully implantable robot for the treatment of diabetes . The study was also conducted in collaboration with the Medical Area Departments of the University of Pisa and the Pisan University Hospital.

The implantable robot for the treatment of diabetes

Type 1 diabetic patients are forced to constantly take insulin to keep their blood glucose under control. Usually, insulin is administered directly to the patient via subcutaneous injections or, in some cases, using special wearable infusers. The researchers of Sant'Anna di Pisa, on the other hand, have created a revolutionary system. It is the first fully implantable diabetes robot that can consistently deliver the right amount of insulin. How does? Simple, it recharges thanks to capsules that act as real insulin reservoirs.

The idea of ​​using a pill as a refueling shuttle

The robot, in fact, is implanted abdominally in the extraperitoneal space, interfaced with the intestine. It acts as a real pump capable of releasing the insulin contained in its reservoir. When this is about to empty, the patient just needs to take a special pill containing insulin once a week, or even every two weeks. Thanks to a magnetic system, the capsule attaches to the robot and activates a mechanism with which it releases insulin , refilling its tank. At that point it detaches and continues its journey in the intestine, until normal expulsion.

The PILLSID, the implantable robot for the treatment of diabetes created by researchers from the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa. In the photo you can see the robotic implant (the white box) and a capsule, equipped with a magnetic strip, to carry insulin and hook onto the lower part of the implant. Credits: Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies.
The PILLSID, the implantable robot created by researchers from the Scuola Superiore Sant'Anna in Pisa. In the photo you can see the robotic implant (the white box) and a capsule, equipped with a magnetic strip, to carry insulin and hook onto the lower part of the implant. Credits: Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies.

The implanted system behaves like a real artificial pancreas

The PILLSID (this is the name of the device), which stands for PILI-refiLled implanted System for Intraperitoneal Delivery , has already been validated at the preclinical level. This robot represents in effect the first example of an almost totally autonomous implantable artificial pancreas , a sensational revolution in the treatment of diabetes. By simulating the functioning of a real pancreas, a control algorithm defines the amount of insulin to be released on the basis of the amount of glucose present in the blood, supplied in turn by a suitable sensor.

The PILLSID for the treatment of diabetes is just one of the many results achieved at Sant'Anna in the search for implantable robots

Sant'Anna's is the result of years of study dedicated to the search for solutions for the treatment of diabetes, but also to the development of implantable robots. Robotics for therapy and minimally invasive surgery have always been the subject of study at the Institute of BioRobotics, explains Prof. Arianna Menciassi, research coordinator. Systems of this type allow for localized therapy for the treatment of type 1 diabetes mellitus and physiological insulin infusion. Thanks to this solution, a diabetic patient will only need to ingest a simple pill to take insulin.

The future of the PILLSID implantable robot: how care for patients with diabetes will change

“The results obtained at the preclinical level are extremely encouraging and of great importance both from a technological and a clinical point of view. A device of this type could allow the development of the first fully implantable artificial pancreas in the future and could also be used in the treatment of other chronic and acute pathologies affecting intraperitoneal organs. "

Veronica Iacovacci, post-doc at the Institute of BioRobotics

Says Veronica Iacovacci, post-doc at the Institute of BioRobotics and first author of the study. Obviously, the device will still need to be improved before proceeding with clinical trials. The next steps will also involve improving the tightness of the implant and the interfaces with the patient's tissues. In addition, precise long-term preclinical validation in the care of patients with diabetes will be required to evaluate the benefits produced by the implantable robot.

One hundred years after the discovery of insulin, the treatment of diabetes has made great strides

Precisely in the centenary year of the discovery of insulin , this system could become the protagonist of a new stage in the treatment of diabetes. Traditional insulin therapies, in fact, are complex and require, in addition to multiple subcutaneous injections, also a careful adjustment of the doses. The robot created at Sant'Anna in Pisa represents the first example of implantable robotics for the treatment of diabetes. It paves the way for the development and use of artificial pancreases that could revolutionize the treatment of diabetic patients.

The article Insulin Pills and the Robotic Pancreas: Revolution in Diabetes Care Comes from Tech CuE | Close-up Engineering .