Scientists in the UK have successfully demonstrated the benefits of an experimental artificial pancreas system in managing type 1 diabetes.
The results of a groundbreaking study show the system is effective at improving overnight blood glucose control while reducing the risk of nocturnal hypoglycemia. They also mark the first time that an artificial pancreas has been used by adult diabetic patients in their own homes for more than a couple of days, and without medical supervision.
Funded by charity Diabetes UK and carried out by researchers in Cambridge, London and Sheffield, the study tested the artificial pancreas system in 24 adults with type 1 diabetes. Each participant used the device overnight for four weeks, switching it on after their evening meal and turned it off again before breakfast the next morning.
The ‘closed-loop’ insulin delivery system consists of a small sensor, which continually monitors blood glucose, a control device that calculates insulin doses accordingly, and an insulin pump that sends the hormone into the body as and when needed.
Dr Roman Hovorka, lead author of the study at the University of Cambridge, explains that the advantage of a closed-loop system is its ability “to fine tune insulin delivery to account for variations in overnight insulin needs,” with real-time feedback from the sensor used to automatically adjust the amount of insulin administered every 12 minutes during the night.
The research team compared overnight glucose levels of people using the novel system with those using standard insulin pumps over four periods of four weeks, and found that artificial pancreas users spent 13.5% more time with their blood glucose levels within the ‘normal’ range (52.6% compared to 39.1% among the control pump group).
They also had lower average night time glucose levels without increasing the time spent with hypoglycaemia, lower average daytime levels and significantly reduced HbA1c, with the latter indicating the long-term benefits of the closed-loop system.
The next step of the research is to demonstrate these benefits in a larger clinical trial, Dr Hovorka added.
Welcoming the findings, Dr Alasdair Ranki, Diabetes UK Director of Research, said: “These results are hugely exciting, as they represent a significant step towards an artificial pancreas that can be used independently at home as a routine treatment option.
“Though more work will be needed before this happens, there is now real hope that this technology had the potential to transform the lives of people with Type 1 diabetes within a generation. The potential health benefits of this could be enormous.”
The study findings appear in The Lancet Diabetes and Endocrinology journal.

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