Jan. 12, 2001

Bright Light work offers ray of hope for diabetes patients

WASHINGTON D.C.—When Lab physicist Tom Peyser found out his young daughter had diabetes, he wanted to work on a project that would make it easier for her to manage the disease.

And now Peyser, along with his co-researchers, have received a Department of Energy Bright Light award for their work on a biomechanical pancreas that will help diabetes patients monitor their glucose levels.

During a White House ceremony on Monday, the Department of Energy awarded the research team, led by physicist Stephen Lane along with Peyser and other physicists Chris Darow and Natasha Zaitseva and chemists Joe Satcher and Doug Cary, with the Bright Light Award for its work developing an implantable device to monitor glucose levels in diabetes patients. The Livermore team is one of five research groups honored nationwide for its work on a recent consumer-oriented innovation.

Lane, who is associate program leader for Livermore’s Medical Technology Program, and the team have been working on the biomechanical pancreas to manage diabetes for more than five years. Through the Lab’s work and a partnership with MiniMed Inc. of Sylmar, the biomechanical pancreas would work in both Types 1 and 2 diabetes patients.

A sensor would be imbedded under the skin of patients to help them constantly maintain near normal glucose levels, an extremely difficult task using current therapeutic methods. The sensor would signal an insulin pump that administers insulin, when needed, to the patient to control his or her glucose level.

An estimated 16 million Americans suffer from diabetes. In 1998, diabetes was responsible for the deaths of 200,000 Americans, making it the third leading cause of death by disease in the United States.

"Even with the best treatment protocols, diabetics have, on average, more than the normal amount of glucose in their system…after many years, this can result in stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, blindness and amputations," Lane said.
Lane said the biomechanical pancreas will help eliminate the pain and inconvenience of testing and injections that diabetic patients go through in a given day. Though it’s still in an early developmental stage, Lane said he hopes the device will eventually eliminate the risk of long-term maladies that affect diabetes patients.

During the ceremony Monday, in a taped response, Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson said the Bright Light awards are given to research groups that make up "the best science that the Department of Energy has to offer during the last two years.

"It’s a showcase and framework for new discoveries."

The Bright Light Award is selected by a panel of DOE citizen judges, who choose innovations from among 23 discoveries or innovations hatched between 1999 and 2000. The innovations must demonstrate a benefit to the American public, be a contribution to U.S. competitiveness in the global marketplace and have the potential for significant future growth.

"We are extremely proud that DOE has selected one of the extraordinary achievements made by the Laboratory’s Medical Technology Program team for the Bright Light Award," said Jeff Wadsworth, deputy director for Science and Technology. "This award proves the Laboratory continues to make significant contributions that benefit the quality of life."

The Bright Light Award is part of DOE’s Energy 100 list, which honors 23 years of the best scientific and technological accomplishments the Department of Energy has to offer since the department was created in 1977. The achievements were nominated for review by DOE lab, program and field offices. A panel of citizen judges evaluated the achievements based on consumer orientation, whether it saves money and its ability to improve American quality of life.

Deputy Secretary of Energy T.J. Glauthier said the work by the Livermore team would help "diabetes patients lead more normal lives."

Glauthier said DOE is trying to make it easier for private companies to partner with its laboratories so that new science and technology can become more widely used.

Medical device research in LLNL’s Medical Technology Program is partially funded by DOE’s Medical Sciences Division.