New Diabetes Device Adds Up

Diabetics are about to get the first device that promises to calculate how much insulin they need after a meal and signal an implanted pump to emit that dose.

The Food and Drug Administration approved on Monday the Paradigm system, made by Medtronic MiniMed Inc. and Becton Dickinson.

Patients still will have to prick a finger to see how much blood sugar is in their systems and program in how many carbohydrates they plan to eat. But until now, they've also had to calculate their required insulin dose based on the two figures, math that if done wrong could result in dangerously high or low blood sugar.

The new machine does that math automatically, and specialists hope a result will be better-managed diabetes.

"The smarter these systems can become, ... the better our patients ought to be able to do," said American Diabetes Association past president Francine Kaufman, a pediatric endocrinologist at Children's Hospital of Los Angeles.

Diabetes is a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure and amputations, and significantly raises the risk of heart attacks. It kills 180,000 Americans each year. Some diabetics control their disease with diet, exercise and various medications; others require regular injections of insulin, a hormone crucial to converting blood sugar into energy.

More than 200,000 diabetics have insulin pumps implanted in their abdomens, a programmable system that can provide more precise, regular doses, infusing even while the patient is sleeping if necessary. But patients still have to test their blood sugar and then do some math to decide how much their pumps should emit and when.

With the new system, patients still will perform the glucose test. The pager-sized glucose monitor uses wireless technology to beam the result straight to the implanted insulin pump. Punch in meal plans, and an internal calculator will figure target glucose levels, the patient's insulin sensitivity and how much insulin is already in the blood to deliver a dose recommendation.

The patient has final control, pushing a button to accept that dose or override it if more or less insulin is needed for some reason.

Medtronic said the prescription-only device will begin shipping July 21 and cost $5,995, $500 more than Medtronic's manually programmed insulin pump.