Dial “I” for Insulin

by Michael Mullaney on June 23, 2011

Our friend Benita Zahn visited campus earlier this week, to meet chemical engineering professor Wayne Bequette and learn more about his fascinating work on creating control systems for an artificial pancreas. The resulting news story is above.

Bequette started his career in the oil refinery industry, where he was in the business of creating complex computer code. This code was the brain that modeled and controlled the advanced diagnostics equipment responsible for monitoring the chemical state of oil as it moved through the labyrinth of refinery machinery.

His pursuits led him to academia. Bequette openly admits that, as a chemical processing guy, he never imagined he would end up doing biomedical engineering research. But serendipity strolls a subtle path. Several years after joining the Rensselaer faculty, a conversation with a colleague (who was an anesthesiologist) set off the proverbial light bulb over Bequette’s head. He saw an opportunity to apply techniques he used in the oil industry toward a new application: modeling blood pressure.

One thing led to another, and he ventured into applying these same techniques toward the challenge of creating an artificial “closed-loop” pancreas. The device, still several years away from being commercialized, pairs a glucose monitor with an insulin pump. For those suffering from Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, the closed-loop system holds the potential to remove much of the guesswork and estimation from the constant care they must take to maintain and live with the disease.

As you can imagine, there’s no shortage of excitement surrounding Bequette’s work. It’s a great project, and it’s a crystal clear example of how basic research can yield new technologies that better our lives in fundamental, meaningful ways.

Read more about Bequette’s research in our recent story here.