People who have type 1 diabetes suffer from a low production of insulin because the condition causes their immune system to mistakenly attack the beta cells that produce the hormone in their pancreas.

While medical technology has allowed patients to supplant natural insulin with insulin shots developed in laboratories, this method is not as effective as those produced from within the body.

To solve this, researchers at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom developed an experimental device that can mimic the function of the pancreas.

This closed-loop insulin delivery system makes use of a smartphone app to closely monitor the blood sugar level of patients and automatically deliver insulin from within their body when needed.

According to the researchers, the new "artificial pancreas" serves to benefit teenagers diagnosed with type 1 diabetes more compared to using different products available in the market.

In a study featured in the journal Diabetes Care, Dr. Roman Hovorka and his colleagues at Cambridge's Metabolic Research Laboratories tested the efficacy of the new insulin delivery system on a group of young diabetics.

The research team discovered that the patients fitted with the artificial pancreas had 8.7 mmol/liter (close to 157 mg/deciliter) of blood sugar. This is a significantly lower level compared to the 10.1 mmol/liter (182 mg/deciliter) that other diabetics typically have when they use other insulin pumps.

For a person to be diagnosed with diabetes in the United States, his or her blood sugar should be 126 mg/deciliter or higher after fasting. The Cambridge experiment designated a safe target range between 3.9 mmol/liter (70 mg/deciliter) and 10 mmol/liter (180 mg/deciliter).

The study showed that the glucose levels of participants who received the artificial pancreas were within the safe target range about 72 percent of the time. The blood sugar of patients using a different device, on the other hand, reached the safe target only 53 percent of the time.

The researchers also found that the time the participants spent with alarmingly low blood sugar levels was only minimal. Both systems also showed equal results.

"The present study adds knowledge about performance in teenagers who are particularly vulnerable to poor glucose control," Hovorka said.

He added that they plan to carry out home testing of the new device involving elderly people and young children.

Hovorka explained that the application of the closed-loop insulin delivery system is not limited by the age of the patient. It is instead limited by the ability of the individual to use the device continuously monitor his or her glucose levels.

Photo: Tess Watson | Flickr 

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