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Artificial pancreas may soon help diabetes sufferers

There’s new hope for people suffering from type 2 diabetes, as researchers demonstrate a fully functioning artificial pancreas.

Diabetes is one of the biggest challenges confronting our health system. According to Diabetes Australia, almost 1.5 million Aussies (around 5.5 per cent of the population) are living with a diabetes diagnosis, and around 500,000 are living with undiagnosed diabetes.

At its core, diabetes is a metabolic condition where your pancreas either stops, or greatly reduces, the amount of insulin it produces. Insulin is a hormone that acts on our cells, allowing for glucose from your bloodstream to enter the cell. In this way, insulin helps your body process excess glucose.

In diabetes patients, because the pancreas is not producing sufficient insulin, glucose in your bloodstream is unable to enter your cells. This results in excess glucose in your blood, which is extremely taxing on your internal processes.

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Most diabetes treatments involve insulin injections to make up for this deficit. Blood glucose levels must then be closely monitored to make sure sufferers get the dosage right.

But in a study, published in the journal Nature Medicine, researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed an ‘artificial pancreas’ – a device that replaces the functionality of the pancreas. It could do away with the need for regular insulin injections and monitoring.

Rather than an actual artificial organ that would need to be surgically implanted, the artificial pancreas is a piece of technology the user would wear on the outside of the body.

The device combines an insulin pump and glucose monitor, which link to an app that uses an algorithm to analyse blood glucose levels and deliver insulin as needed to keep levels stable.

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To test the device, the researchers took a group of 26 individuals who have type 2 diabetes, splitting them into two groups.

The first group used the artificial pancreas for eight weeks, then switched to eight weeks of their standard diabetes therapy.

The second group did the opposite, spending the first eight weeks on their regular treatment plan and then switching to the artificial pancreas.

The researchers were looking to see how much time each group spent in their target glucose range of between 3.9 and 10 millimoles per litre.

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The results showed that when people used the artificial pancreas, they stayed within their target range 66 per cent of the time, compared with only 32 per cent of the time when using standard injection therapy.

The order in which the two groups used the device didn’t seem to affect the results, only whether the patient was using the device.

Dr Charlotte Boughton, co-lead author of the study, told Medical News Today the device had already been submitted to health authorities in the UK. She expected it to be available to the public shortly.

“Our main message from this study is that this fully automated closed-loop system is a safe and much more effective way for people living with type 2 diabetes to manage their glucose levels than current standard treatment with insulin,” she said.

“The device has been submitted for regulatory approval in the UK and we anticipate that this may be commercially available for people with type 2 diabetes in the next 12 months.”

Do you live with diabetes? Could this device help you? Let us know in the comments section below.

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