A professor at Leicester's De Montfort University is in the early stages of developing an artificial pancreas.
The device, which would be implanted between the lowest rib and the hip, contains a supply of insulin kept in place by a gel barrier which is designed to react to blood glucose levels and secrete insulin when needed. The ‘pancreas’ would need to be topped up with insulin every few weeks.
Protein would react with glucose
"I realised that I could use a certain protein to make a gel that would react with glucose. When exposed to the body fluid around the internal organs, the gel reacts according to the amount of glucose present," said project lead Professor Joan Taylor.
"High levels cause the gel to soften and release insulin into the bloodstream. Once the glucose levels return to normal, the nature of the gel causes it to resolidify, perfectly controlling the insulin dose."
Professor Taylor's team hope to move to clinical trials within the next few years, and if they are successful, they estimate that the device could be available in ten years.
Important not to raise expectations
Dr Victoria King, Head of Research at Diabetes UK, was keen to stress, however, that the device is still at a very early stage of development, and it is therefore important to avoid raising expectations, although it "could prove to be an exciting development in improving diabetes management for some people".