Science News

Computer Controls Blood Sugar

Sun, 7th Feb 2010

Part of the show Turning Sperm On and Communication through Tennis

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have put together an artificial pancreas system which works overnight and considerably reduces the risk of low blood sugar occurring in diabetics during sleep.

InsulinIn people with type 1 diabetes the pancreas doesn’t produce enough of the hormone insulin and it’s this hormone which enables muscles and the liver to take up sugar from the blood. This can be a huge problem at night when these low sugar levels – or hypoglycaemic events – can go unnoticed and can lead to seizures or even comas.

Publishing this week in the Lancet, the Cambridge team put together some commercially available kit which can monitor and deliver insulin but they added their own computer algorithm to work out how much insulin was necessary.

They trialled this on 17 youthful people aged between 5 and 18 years who had type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetics can use an artificial pump during the night which feeds the body with insulin. The problem with that is that it makes no account for the sugar level at the time – it’s just a steady stream of insulin. And with that method the team found that the blood sugar level stayed in the correct range for about 40% of the time.

But using their new set-up where they adjusted the insulin to each blood sugar measurement, the resulting blood sugar level was right between 60% and 75% of the time. 

Roman Hovorka, who’s from the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge, said: "These results suggest that closed-loop devices may be able to significantly lower the patient's risk of developing complications later in life by reducing or even overcoming the burden of hypoglycemia."



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