There's a little pump, the size of a hockey puck, implanted under the skin of Terry Gomer's abdomen.

For three years, the experimental insulin pump has functioned as a gift of space-age technology for him and others who have diabetes.Gomer, who lives in Irvine, Calif., is in Salt Lake City to publicize Holy Cross Hospital and the Diabetes Health Center's study of implantable insulin pumps. Ten volunteers are needed for an experimental three-year research project of the MiniMed Model 2000, said Dr. Dana Clarke, principal investigator for the project and director of the Diabetes Health Center.

The device, similar in size to a heart pacemaker, is designed to pump insulin into the body and replace the regimen of insulin shots required to regulate a diabetic's blood sugar levels.

About 70,000 to 80,000 Utahns suffer from diabetes, a genetic disease in which bodies don't produce or properly use insulin, the protein hormone that helps the body use sugar and other carbohydrates. Many diabetics have to follow strict regimens of insulin injections and blood sugar monitoring.

If blood sugar isn't carefully regulated, those who need insulin injections can suffer insulin shock, characterized by tremors, cold sweat, convulsions or coma.

In the future, researchers hope the implantable device will provide promise for diabetics seeking less-complicated lives. The pump is a more efficient delivery system than insulin injections, for it delivers insulin near the liver, closer to where it is used. A microchip inside the pump can be programmed to release varying amounts of insulin.

Eventually, researchers hope to develop a censor to work in tandom with the pump, which would automatically monitor blood sugar levels and release the necessary insulin.

As designed, pump wearers would still need to monitor their blood sugar levels in order to adjust insulin flow, but the machine would require insulin refills only every three months. An operation to implant the device, which is inserted in a pocket between the abdomen wall and the membrane that captures the body's internal organs, takes about an hour and is performed under general or local anesthesia.

About 100 diabetics nationwide wear the experimental pump inside their bodies, like Gomer does. He said he wears his loud enough to hear its regular pumping, a reassuring security blanket of a sound.

He terms the MiniMed a blessing, for the experimental technology allows him to control his disease rather than being controlled by five insulin injections he needed each day.

But Gomer admits the pump does cause slight problems, at airport checkpoints, for instance. It's an inconvenience he is more than willing to live with. "In these current times, one must allow a few extra minutes at security checks."

For information about the study, call The Diabetes Health Center at 532-3666.

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GRAPHIC

Insulin pump

How it works

Insulin from the implantable pump is delivered into the body near the liver, where it is absorbed. About 60 percent of the insulin goes to the liver, while the rest is absorbed throughout the bloodstream. About 100 diabetics nationwide have insulin pumps.