Diabetes UK is proud to be funding two ground-breaking research projects which aim to develop and test an artificial pancreas device for use in adults with Type 1 diabetes.
How the artificial pancreas works
The artificial pancreas is a system that measures blood glucose levels on a minute-to-minute basis using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and transmits this information to an insulin pump that calculates and releases the required amount of insulin into the body.
This system, which is worn like an insulin pump, has been termed the 'artificial pancreas' because it monitors and adjusts insulin levels just as the pancreas does in people without diabetes.
A better life
The device has the potential to transform lives, particularly for those who find it difficult to maintain good blood glucose control. By levelling out the peaks and troughs in blood glucose levels, the artificial pancreas will help to avoid raised glucose levels, which over time contribute to the development of complications, and low glucose levels, or ‘hypos’, which can be distressing and in extreme cases can lead to a coma or death.
Two funded projects
Diabetes UK-funded researchers at the University of Cambridge are currently working on two projects to tailor the artificial pancreas system for adults with Type 1 diabetes, and for women with Type 1 diabetes during pregnancy.
Dr Roman Hovorka at the University of Cambridge is working on a five-and-a-half-year project to generate a first-generation artificial pancreas prototype and evaluate its ability to improve blood glucose control at home and reduce the risk of overnight hypos in adults with Type 1 diabetes. Dr Hovorka’s project is costing a total of £700,526.
Also at the University of Cambridge, Dr Helen Murphy is leading on a five-year project to adapt the artificial pancreas to control blood glucose levels during pregnancy. This research could drastically reduce cases of stillbirth and mortality rates among pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes. Dr Murphy’s project is costing a total of £501,689.
Dr Roman Hovorka
In April 2011, Dr Hovorka published encouraging results from two studies evaluating the performance of the artificial pancreas compared with conventional treatment in 10 men and 14 women with Type 1 diabetes.
The studies showed a 22 per cent improvement in the time that participants kept their blood glucose levels in a safe range, halving the time they spent with low blood glucose levels and reducing the risk of both short and long term complications.
Dr Hovorka’s team are now in the fifth year of their project and are carrying out a clinical trial to evaluate how an artificial pancreas prototype performs in the home environment.
More information about Dr Hovorka's findings.
Dr Helen Murphy
In January 2011, Dr Murphy published results from a small study of 10 pregnant women, with an average age of 31 and with Type 1 diabetes.
The artificial pancreas system was able to automatically calculate the right amount of insulin at the right time, maintain near normal blood glucose levels and, in turn, prevent nocturnal hypoglycaemia in both early and late pregnancy.
In December 2011, her team also demonstrated the safety and effectiveness of the system in pregnant women over a 24-hour period, including during and after moderate exercise. Women using the system achieved glucose levels within the recommended target range for over 19 hours per day (comparable to the very best control achieved using insulin pump therapy) and the system helped to protect against extreme low blood glucose levels.
Like Dr Hovorka, Dr Murphy is currently working to move the artificial pancreas out of the hospital and into the home. Her team hope to begin an overnight home study of the system in Autumn 2012.
More about Dr Murphy's findings.
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