Artificial pancreas promises to transform life for young diabetics

A team of scientists in Britain are in the process of developing an artificial pancreas for children and teens with type 1 diabetes.

The device if successful promises to transform the lives of scores of youngsters.

The team from the University of Cambridge say the new mechanism could enable young patients to lead more normal lives by freeing children with diabetes from their reliance on blood tests and injections and helping them to manage the condition better.

It is apparently more difficult to regulate insulin in youngsters as their need for glucose fluctuates more than in adults.

About 350,000 Britons have type 1 diabetes, which usually emerges in childhood or young adulthood.

Sufferers have to monitor their blood sugar levels by means of regular finger-prick blood tests and inject insulin accordingly.

In type 1 diabetics, the pancreas is not able to produce insulin or else produces very little of it and insulin may have to be introduced into the system via a syringe or an insulin pump as much as six times a day.

The artificial pancreas offers the solution of introducing the appropriate amounts of insulin when it is needed.

The device is a combination of a glucose sensor and an insulin pump which together make what is called a 'closed loop' piece of apparatus.

This would provide up to the minute glucose monitoring, which would be transferred onto a handheld computer that calculates the insulin for a patient's particular need; this data would then be sent to an insulin pump, allowing for the precise regulation of insulin.

Lead researcher, Dr. Roman Hovorka, says insulin needs to be more accurately released to attain near-normal levels of blood glucose and to reduce the risk of dangerous low blood glucose levels.

This he says is the greatest fear for parents of youngsters with diabetes as it can result in hospitalization, coma and occasionally permanent brain damage or death, if not treated in time.

By delivering the correct amount of insulin as soon as it is needed, it should reduce long-term complications such as blindness, loss of sensation and ulceration of the feet, which can lead to amputation.

Clinical trials for the instrument will start in January 2007 when 12 children aged between 5 and 18 will be fitted with a glucose monitor.

Once they are used to it they will spend a night in hospital with the insulin pump fitted while a nurse watches the glucose monitor and adjusts it accordingly.

On a second night in hospital the system will be controlled by a computer, programmed with information from the previous stay.

The project has received a £500,000 grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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