Lauryn: Advancing Research on Artificial Pancreas Devices for Type 1 Diabetes Treatment
When Lauryn was in eighth grade, she listened to a lesson on diabetes given at her medical magnet middle school in her hometown of Jacksonville, Florida. This information helped her when, a couple of weeks later, she started experiencing the symptoms of type 1 diabetes that she had just learned about. “I had frequent urination, I was thirsty, and I was falling asleep in class,” Lauryn recalls. “Normally, I never fall asleep in class.” Because of her lesson, she was confident that she had type 1 diabetes, even before her diagnosis was confirmed.
Adjusting to life with type 1 diabetes as an adolescent “was definitely rough,” Lauryn says. She remembers how tough it was for her to always think about when to take insulin and how much to take depending on what she was eating. Another challenge for Lauryn was that when her blood sugar levels fell, she felt terrible. Because she feared having low blood sugar, “I’d try to keep my [blood] sugar on the higher side and not take as much insulin as I needed to,” she admits. As a result, her hemoglobin A1c (HbA1c) levels were about 9 percent, while the recommended level is below 7 percent.
Lauryn was not alone—most teenagers and young adults with type 1 diabetes have higher than recommended HbA1c levels. This worrisome trend underscores the importance of research to identify strategies to help young people manage their disease and improve their short- and long-term health.
“It was probably one of the best things that has happened…. It introduced me to an easier life,” says Lauryn, talking about how participating in a Bionic Pancreas clinical trial showed her a less burdensome approach to managing her type 1 diabetes.
Lauryn’s opportunity to contribute to that research came in the summer of 2021 when she was 20 years old. She got a phone call from one of her health care providers at Nemours Children's Health, Jacksonville. He encouraged her to join a new clinical trial being done at Nemours—one of 16 participating U.S. sites— that was testing an iLet® Bionic Pancreas device (Bionic Pancreas). Until then, Lauryn had only used multiple daily insulin injections for managing her type 1 diabetes, but she was interested in trying a system with an insulin pump. “I thought it would make life easier, so I didn’t have to do injections all the time,” she says. Lauryn signed up for the 13-week trial and was happy she was randomly selected for an arm of the trial that would test the Bionic Pancreas.
Lauryn feels that joining the trial was the right choice. “It was probably one of the best things that has happened” since her type 1 diabetes diagnosis, she says. “It introduced me to an easier life.” Lauryn explained that one big advantage of being on the new device was that it greatly reduced the number of needed injections. With the Bionic Pancreas, she only had to change the needle at her insulin infusion site once every 3 days—a dramatic decrease from the six insulin injections each day she was administering before the trial.
Another major benefit was that her HbA1c levels drastically improved by the end of the trial— decreasing from about 9 to 7 percent. When asked if the HbA1c improvement made her feel better, she responds, “I felt like it did. I wasn’t as tired, and I was more active.” Another plus was that she used less insulin while on the Bionic Pancreas. Although the insulin and other supplies she used as part of the trial were paid for by the research study, paying for insulin and other diabetes management supplies is a challenge for her and her mom. Not only was she able to further type 1 diabetes research through her participation in the trial, but she also says she benefitted from the helpful break from the costs of managing her diabetes.
Lauryn notes that there were some aspects of the device that did not work well for her. For example, she disliked the wire that delivered insulin because it got caught on things. She also did not feel that the feature that eliminated carbohydrate counting worked well for her all the time, though she did like it in some instances. Such research participant feedback is important because it helps scientists improve devices to enhance patient satisfaction.
“I wasn’t as tired, and I was more active,” says Lauryn, speaking about how she felt after her hemoglobin A1c levels dramatically improved during her participation in a clinical trial.
Overall, Lauryn appreciated that the Bionic Pancreas helped improve her health while reducing the burden of managing her type 1 diabetes. Importantly, it also introduced her to a new way of managing her diabetes other than injecting insulin. As a result, at the end of the trial when she had to return the Bionic Pancreas to the researchers, she decided to start using a commercially available insulin pump. At the time of this interview, Lauryn’s health insurance had stopped covering her commercial pump, so she was back to using insulin injections. “I’m trying to stay as healthy as I can until I get back on the pump,” she says.
An unexpected benefit of the trial was the bond that Lauryn developed with the research team. “I really enjoyed working with them,” she says. Lauryn particularly bonded with a Senior Clinical Research Coordinator at Nemours whom she worked with very closely during the trial, and the Coordinator has become a mentor. “She’s an endocrinologist, and I want to be a reproductive endocrinologist, so there’s a lot of things I could learn from her. That was a great aspect of doing the trial,” Lauryn says.
Now a 21-year-old senior in college, Lauryn is majoring in chemistry/pre-med with a minor in physics. She plans to attend medical school, pursue that goal of becoming a reproductive endocrinologist, and work as a physician on a military base. When she’s not busy studying, she enjoys going to theme parks or watching videos of them—she loves their atmosphere and the feeling they give of being away from the real world.
“I would encourage everyone to try a clinical trial at least once,” Lauryn says. She explains that research is important to her because “we need to know if things will work or if things won’t work.” In particular, she thinks it was important for her to participate in the Bionic Pancreas clinical trial as a person of color. “For me to have done the trial, I feel like it will show other people who look like me: ‘I can do it too. I can be healthy and have diabetes,’” she says. “It’s about helping my culture, helping my community, and showing them there are other people out there just like me with diabetes living a healthy life, living a normal life…. I’m definitely glad that I did the trial.”
Lauryn thinks it was important for her to participate in the Bionic Pancreas clinical trial as a person of color. “For me to have done the trial, I feel like it will show other people who look like me: ‘I can do it too. I can be healthy and have diabetes.’”
In the true spirit of a person with a calling to help others, Lauryn has also spent time online sharing her experiences of living with type 1 diabetes and educating others about the disease. She says that when she was first diagnosed, she felt alone. “I didn’t see a lot of people like me with diabetes, but then I realized there are a lot of people out there like me with diabetes.” She shares her experiences with others to help them realize that they aren’t alone.
Through her participation in the Bionic Pancreas clinical trial and her sharing of her personal experiences of living with type 1 diabetes, Lauryn is making a positive impact on the lives of other people with the disease. And at 21, she is just getting started.
This content is provided as a service of the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
(NIDDK), part of the National Institutes of Health. The NIDDK translates and disseminates research findings to increase knowledge and understanding about health and disease among patients, health professionals, and the public. Content produced by the NIDDK is carefully reviewed by NIDDK scientists and other experts.