International trial of artificial pancreas for young children with type 1 diabetes announced

by Barbara Hewitt on September 9, 2016

An international trial to test whether an artificial pancreas can help young children manage their type 1 diabetes will begin next year, it has been announced.

Type 1 diabetes is one of the most common chronic diseases in children and causes the pancreas to stop producing sufficient insulin to regulate blood sugar (glucose) levels. With poor glucose control having the potential to lead to complications including eye, heart and kidney disease, it is vital that children can control the condition but it can be daunting and difficult for them.

Child-DiabetesAn artificial pancreas is regarded as one of the best ways forward in terms of helping children to cope with type 2 diabetes and could also eliminate the need for regular insulin injections which can be in some cases several times a day.

A team at the University of Cambridge and Cambridge University Hospitals in England hopes to replace these treatments with an artificial pancreas, a small, portable medical device designed to carry out the function of a healthy pancreas in controlling blood glucose levels, using digital technology to automate insulin delivery.

The system is worn externally on the body, and is made up of three functional components: continuous glucose monitoring, a computer algorithm to calculate the insulin dose, and an insulin pump.

The artificial pancreas promises to transform management of type 1 diabetes. Several trials have already shown that it is effective for use both in school children and adults in the home environment, and last year saw the first natural birth to a mother fitted with an artificial pancreas.

However, there has as yet been no research into its use by young children at home. Now, KidsAP, a collaboration led the University of Cambridge and involving institutes across Europe and in the United States, has received a €4.6 million grant from the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme to carry out a trial of the artificial pancreas among children aged one to seven years with type 1 diabetes. Cambridge has received a €1.6 million share of the grant to act as coordinator of the project.

‘We’ve already seen that the artificial pancreas can have a very positive effect on people’s lives and now, thanks to funding from the European Commission, we can see whether young children will also see these same benefits,’ said Dr Roman Hovorka from the Department of Paediatrics at the University of Cambridge and Addenbrooke’s Hospital, who is leading the project.

‘At the moment, children have to have frequent insulin injections that are at best inconvenient, but at worst painful. We hope this new technology will eliminate this need,’ Hovorka added.

An initial pilot of 24 children, the main study will split 94 children into two groups. One will be treated over a year by the artificial pancreas and the other half by state of the art insulin pump therapy, already used by some adults and teenagers. The researchers will measure quality of life and investigate the impact of the two approaches on the children’s daily life, as well as looking at which is the more effective, and cost effective, approach.

‘If the artificial pancreas is shown to be more beneficial than insulin pump therapy, then we expect that it will change how type 1 diabetes is managed both nationally and internationally, with a much improved quality of life for young children,’ said Professor David Dunger, collaborator on the project.


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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