Miniaturising the pump

Debiotech and STMicroelectronics are collaborating to develop a unique miniaturised insulin-delivery pump.


The Nanopump, which relies on microfluidic MEMS (Micro-Electro-Mechanical System) technology, is a concept that allows a tiny pump to be mounted on a disposable skin patch to provide continuous insulin infusion.


The companies claim that the Nanopump will enable substantial advancements in the availability, treatment efficiency and the quality of life of diabetes patients. The original technology was awarded the Swiss Technology Award in 2006 and the agreement brings it closer to the market.


Insulin pump therapy, or Continuous Subcutaneous Insulin Infusion (CSII), is an increasingly attractive alternative to individual insulin injections that must be administered several times a day. With CSII, the patient is connected to a programmable pump attached to a storage reservoir, from which insulin is infused into the tissue under the skin. Continuous delivery throughout the day, more closely mimics the natural secretion of insulin from the pancreas.


The miniaturised disposable insulin pump combines Debiotech’s expertise in insulin delivery with ST’s strengths in manufacturing high-volume silicon-based microfluidic devices. Microfluidic technology allows the flow of very small amounts of fluids to be electronically controlled. This pump represents a step in the development and adoption of CSII therapy and the technology will also find applications in many other biomedical applications.


Today, existing insulin pumps are about the size of a pager. The new ST-enabled Debiotech miniaturized MEMS device is about one quarter the size of these existing pumps and can be worn as a nearly invisible patch on the skin. The small size frees the patient from concerns with holding the pump in place and concealing it under clothing.


The MEMS-based Nanopump also provides better control of the administered insulin doses. Dosing precision is a critical factor in treatment efficacy and contributes to reducing adverse long-term consequences. The Nanopump is able to control delivery at the nanolitre level, very close to the physiological delivery of insulin.


The device prevents over-dosing and detects under-delivery, occlusion, air bubbles and other potential malfunctions in the pump to further protect patients. As a disposable device, manufactured using high-volume semiconductor processing technologies, the MEMS-based Nanopump will also be much more affordable, allowing the patient or the health system to avoid the typical up-front investment associated with current pump solutions.


The insulin Nanopump, developed by Debiotech and industrialised by ST, represents the first use of microfluidic MEMS technology in diabetes treatment. Functional samples have already been produced and the two partners expect that a fully industrialised product, in the form of a disposable cartridge, will be available in selected markets in 2008.


Debiotech will remain responsible for the commercialisation of the product through its licenses with major players in the medical device market.