The artificial pancreas that keeps tabs on sugar

May 16, 2013
Sugar spoon. Credit: The District

(Medical Xpress)—Development of a sophisticated artificial pancreas holds potential to transform the lives of patients with Type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is a lifelong condition caused when the pancreas stops producing the insulin needed to control . Patients must carry out frequent finger-prick tests and inject insulin to keep their blood sugar within safe limits. Left untreated, Type 1 diabetes is fatal; even suboptimal control increases the risk of heart disease, stroke, , and blindness.

Patients under the age of five are a particularly vulnerable group. Too young to recognise the shaking and dizziness that warn of a drop in their blood sugar, they are at high risk of developing overnight .

Now, a clinical trial with this age group is testing an 'artificial pancreas', developed by the group of Dr Roman Hovorka, Director of Research at the University's Metabolic Research Laboratories. "Using an off-the-shelf and continuous glucose sensor, we've developed a to control their function in a closed-loop fashion, delivering the correct amount of insulin according to blood sugar levels," he said. "By maintaining tight control of blood sugar, this has the potential to revolutionise the treatment of patients with Type 1 diabetes and significantly improve their quality of life."

The glucose-responsive system has been trialled in adolescents, adults and pregnant women with Type 1 diabetes at the Cambridge Clinical Research Facility (CRF), and follow-on studies are ongoing with these groups at home.

Hovorka has now turned his focus towards using the system to help the very youngest patients. This year, 78,000 children worldwide were diagnosed with , and the incidence in under-fives is rising annually by 3% in many countries.

"The risk of these children developing overnight hypoglycaemia, when drop dangerously low and can lead to a coma, is a major concern for parents," said Hovorka. "The tiring routine of getting up several times every night to check their child's blood sugar is disruptive for the whole family."

In the new trial, running until July 2013, children stay overnight at the CRF with their parents. "Insulin is a hormone that is powerful enough to kill people, so we need to be very careful," said Hovorka, whose research is funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation, US National Institutes of Health, Diabetes Research Network, National Institute for Health Research (NIHR), Diabetes UK and European Commission. "Our trials at the CRF are an essential step, enabling us to document safety and reliability with different groups before we let them test it at home. Our controlled conditions, and proximity to the hospital, provide reassurance that, if there is a problem, we can help."

The CRF is a joint venture between the University's School of Clinical Medicine, the NIHR and the Wellcome Trust. It provides facilities for investigators from across the Cambridge Biomedical Campus to carry out clinical trials in patients and healthy volunteers, but is now greatly oversubscribed. Fundraising is currently under way to enable an extension to be built next year, to accelerate the development of effective new treatments and interventions to benefit patients across a wide range of conditions, including obesity and diabetes, immune and inflammatory disorders, and cancer.

For Hovorka, various other trials of the system are also in progress, including in the control of in patients in the Neurosciences Critical Care Unit at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, and his prototype devices are being commercialised by Cambridge Enterprise, the University's commercialisation arm. "We hope to make the overnight closed-loop system widely available in the next three to five years," he said.

Explore further: Artificial pancreas may improve overnight control of diabetes in adults

Related Stories

Artificial pancreas may improve overnight control of diabetes in adults

April 15, 2011
Two small randomised trials published in the British Medical Journal today suggest that closed loop insulin delivery (also known as an artificial pancreas) may improve overnight blood glucose control and reduce the risk of ...

Dual-hormone artificial pancreas is a step closer for patients with Type 1 diabetes

January 28, 2013
For patients with type 1 diabetes, a dual-hormone artificial pancreas system (also known as a closed-loop delivery system) improved the control of glucose levels and reduced the risk of hypoglycemia compared with conventional ...

Pancreas stem cell discovery may lead to new diabetes treatments

November 14, 2012
(Medical Xpress)—Stem cells in the adult pancreas have been identified that can be turned into insulin producing cells, a finding that means people with type 1 diabetes might one day be able to regenerate their own insulin-producing ...

Recommended for you

Scientists discover a new way to treat type 2 diabetes

July 21, 2017
Medication currently being used to treat obesity is also proving to have significant health benefits for patients with type 2 diabetes. A new study published today in Molecular Metabolism explains how this therapeutic benefit ...

Alzheimer's drug cuts hallmark inflammation related to metabolic syndrome by 25 percent

July 20, 2017
An existing Alzheimer's medication slashes inflammation and insulin resistance in patients with metabolic syndrome, a potential therapeutic intervention for a highly dangerous condition affecting 30 percent of adults in the ...

Diabetes or its precursor affects 100 million Americans

July 19, 2017
Almost one-third of the US population—100 million people—either has diabetes or its precursor condition, known as pre-diabetes, said a government report Tuesday.

One virus may protect against type 1 diabetes, others may increase risk

July 11, 2017
Doctors can't predict who will develop type 1 diabetes, a chronic autoimmune disease in which the immune system destroys the cells needed to control blood-sugar levels, requiring daily insulin injections and continual monitoring.

Diabetes complications are a risk factor for repeat hospitalizations, study shows

July 7, 2017
For patients with diabetes, one reason for hospitalization and unplanned hospital readmission is severe dysglycemia (uncontrolled hyperglycemia - high blood sugar, or hypoglycemia - low blood sugar), says new research published ...

Researchers identify promising target to protect bone in patients with diabetes

July 7, 2017
Utilizing metabolomics research techniques, NYU Dentistry researchers investigated the underlying biochemical activity and signaling within the bone marrow of hyperglycemic mice with hopes of reducing fracture risks of diabetics


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.