Bionic, Man…

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So I was scouring articles online, searching for a topic to write about. I stumbled on a few articles outlining testing on the development of an “artificial pancreas” — a system that could monitor blood glucose, compute insulin, release said insulin, and continuously balance itself. A bionic implant! I remember hearing about this idea several years ago when “continuous blood glucose monitoring” was first becoming possible. At the time, this was something only used for cases where conventional testing wasn’t working and the individual needed a stronger intervention. And it was, of course, bulky and expensive. I’m not sure where that technology stands as of now, but I’m sure it’s developing rapidly. (Editor’s note: Continuous glucose monitoring technology has indeed come a long way. To learn more about using a continuous glucose monitor, click here.)

In any event, it was amazing to think that I may someday have my very own “bionic pancreas”! I grew up on movies like RoboCop, Total Recall, and Back to the Future. In the 2015 version of Hill Valley, California (the setting for all three Back to the Future films), Biff’s grandson has “bionic implants” to help him punch people better. Those implants were modeled as somewhat noisy external rods around the guy’s arms. I suppose they received some kind of kinetic energy from the arm’s muscle movements and provided their motor-driven assistance; the movie wasn’t all too specific on the science of it. And that about sums up my previous idea of what “bionic implants” would look, feel, and function like. In other words, they were pure science fiction!


I gotta say, when I first saw the term “bionic pancreas,” I didn’t think anything like, “my, that’s interesting,” or “that would certainly help better regulate and manage this disease, making my life better, longer, and healthier.” My first thought was, “that’s awesome — I’m gonna be bionic, man!” I was mostly taken by the thought of how purely COOL that would be to have my own “bionic implant.” And you know what? It IS cool! Insulin pumps are cool! Blood glucose meters are cool! iPhones? Not bad, but nowhere near as cool as an insulin pump. iPhones do nothing but run time-wasting apps and drop important phone calls, but an insulin pump integrates with a living biological process and sustains life! An insulin pump is miraculous! So is a blood glucose monitor!

I’ve never quite appreciated the fact that living with diabetes puts us on the leading wave of biotechnology. I tend to think of it in purely medical research terms. But the technology involved in managing this disease is staggering. And the continuing evolution of technology is as much a factor in the search for a cure as new lines of theoretical research. The bionic pancreas isn’t waiting for researchers to figure out what it should do — we KNOW what it should do. It’s waiting for genius minds from MIT to refine the computational capacity for such a device to function! We’re not waiting on medical research; we’re waiting on technological refinement. We’re waiting on iPancreas!

Thirty years from now
I’ll always be a child of the 80’s. When I envision 30 years into the future, I still see Hill Valley, circa 2015. Or maybe I see RoboCop roaming the streets of future-Detroit, ducking under the hovering cars of the future. And when I think about biotechnology, I still see Griff, Biff’s grandson, with his bionic arms threatening to punch Michael J. Fox. But the fact is, my future, and your future, are deeply affected by biotechnology. And it won’t be the crazy science-fiction variety of an 80’s movie. Thirty years from now will probably look a lot the same in many ways. The changes will be small in size, but they’ll change our lives in drastic ways.

Imagine nanotech cells, injected every six months, floating through your bloodstream regulating your blood glucose. That’s possible — it’s not here yet, but it’s not science fiction, either. Or imagine that bionic pancreas, probably the size of the today’s insulin pumps or even smaller, perhaps implanted, perhaps not. Either way, just imagine a single day of your life where your blood glucose was managed without your constant attention! It’s not science fiction. It’s not here yet, and it won’t be unveiled along with the iPhone 6, but it will happen. And when it does, it’ll be…bionic!

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