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Medical trials use artificial pancreas to help diabetes

Future medicines and treatment for young patients suffering from Type 1 diabetes could be revolutionised with an ‘artificial pancreas’ device that scientists have created to help manage blood sugar levels in diabetes sufferers overnight.

Four studies involving more than seventy patients from Cambridge, London and Leeds in the UK, as well as Germany and Austria, are being carried out. The patients involved must wear the artificial pancreas device during the day or overnight.

The artificial pancreas is worn outside the body and is connected to a glucose sensor placed underneath the skin. This glucose sensor detects blood sugar levels in the individual before transmitting the information to an insulin pump, which then releases the right amount of insulin into the body.

Currently, children suffering from type 1 diabetes have to carry out up to ten finger prick tests a day in order to measure their blood sugar levels, as well as making calculations to make up their insulin injections which they must then administer themselves.

Sometimes, patients are even at risk of suffering from hyperglycaemic attacks whilst they are asleep, which can be fatal.

Dr Hovorka, the lead scientist behind the study said that the results that had been shown so far had been encouraging: “We’re looking at two major aspects, improving glucose control to make it more stable and more normal. It’s going to be associated with patients with long term complications such as kidney or eye problems.”

“And to reduce the risk resulting in lower glucose volumes, hyperglycaemia, when it happens at night. Especially in children, the system automatically controls the glucose during the day and night. Our study is a stepping stone. We’re looking beyond the study how it can progress to wider use. It’s an important study but it still need to be followed by other investigations. It could transform and revolutionise treatment.” he added.

One patient who has already received the artificial pancreas is 11 year-old Daniel Walls, from Tilbrook. Susan, his mother, has said that even though he is seven months into a nine-month trial where he has to use the device overnight, it has revolutionised the way they live: “It means he can do something as simple as going to a sleepover at a friend’s” she said, “[without the device] He can’t really go to somebody’s house as we can’t expect somebody else to get up in the night. It just keeps them safe.”

Susan added, “Every three months we have intravenous blood tests testing his blood levels and we’ve already seen improvements over the last seven months.”

“It would be amazing if it was widely available to everyone, it just would make such a difference. It’s hard work for children. Every social thing they do, whether they are outside playing, having something to eat or drinking, their blood glucose level they always have to have in the back of their mind. In a way they miss out on childhood, they have to have responsibility, they have a lot to deal with. People often misunderstand the severity of diabetes.” Daniel’s mother summarised.

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