Ground breaking artificial pancreas research advancing well

by Sarita Sheth on November 23, 2012

Research projects aim to develop and test an artificial pancreas

Leading British charity Diabetes UK is funding two ground breaking research projects which aim to develop and test an artificial pancreas device for use in adults with type 1 diabetes.

The artificial pancreas aims to measure blood glucose levels on a minute to minute basis using a continuous glucose monitor (CGM). It then 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.

The charity says that it 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.

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.

The 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 is being led by Dr Roman Hovorka at the university.

Meanwhile, Dr Helen Murphy is leading 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.

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 results showed a 22% 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.

Dr Murphy has published results from a small study of 10 pregnant women, with an average age of 31 who have 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.

Her team has also shown 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 which is comparable to the very best control achieved using insulin pump therapy and the system helped to protect against extreme low blood glucose levels.

Dr Murphy is currently working on how to move the artificial pancreas out of the hospital and into the home. Her team are now beginning an overnight home study of the system.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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