Scientists reveal ‘artificial pancreas' which can manage blood sugar levels

The device is worn externally and software in the patient's phone adjusts the levels of insulin required automatically.

Scientists have trialled an “artificial pancreas” that can effectively manage blood sugar levels of patients with type 2 diabetes.

Researchers led by the University of Cambridge said their device can be used to support people living with both type 2 diabetes and kidney failure.

The findings, published in the journal Nature Medicine, showed mean blood sugar levels were lower with the artificial pancreas when compared to standard treatment.

Dr Charlotte Boughton, from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, who led the study, said: “Patients living with type 2 diabetes and kidney failure are a particularly vulnerable group and managing their condition – trying to prevent potentially dangerous highs or lows of blood sugar levels – can be a challenge.

“There’s a real unmet need for new approaches to help them manage their condition safely and effectively.”

The portable device functions like a healthy pancreas and is worn externally on the body.

It features three components: a glucose sensor, a computer algorithm to calculate the insulin dose, and an insulin pump.

The software in the user’s smartphone sends a signal to the insulin pump to adjust the level of insulin the patient needs.

A glucose monitor measures the patient’s blood sugar levels and sends the data back to the phone.

The artificial pancreas is a fully closed loop system, which means the device can function automatically, without the need for human intervention.

For the study, the researchers recruited 26 patients requiring dialysis between October 2019 and November 2020.

Half of the participants received the artificial pancreas first while the rest received standard insulin therapy first.

The researchers compared how long patients spent in the target blood sugar range (5.6 to 10.0mmol/L) over a 20-day period.

Patients using the artificial pancreas spent on average 53% of their time in the target range, compared to 38% when they used the standard treatment.

Mean blood sugar levels were lower with the artificial pancreas (10.1 vs. 11.6 mmol/L), the researchers said.

The device also reduced the amount of time patients spent with potentially dangerously low blood sugar levels, they added.

Using the artificial pancreas meant there was less time needed for finger-prick blood sugar checks and, thus, less time required to manage their diabetes.

Senior author, Professor Roman Hovorka, also from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science, said: “Not only did the artificial pancreas increase the amount of time patients spent within the target range for the blood sugar levels, but it also gave the users peace of mind.

“They were able to spend less time having to focus on managing their condition and worrying about the blood sugar levels, and more time getting on with their lives.”

The research comes after the same team had previously developed another artificial pancreas for patients living with type 1 diabetes, with the aim of replacing insulin injections.

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