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Are we one step closer to the ‘Holy Grail’?

In a recent press release, it was revealed that Medtronic had filed for premarket approval for its hybrid closed-loop system for managing diabetes. This is a system that can measure blood glucose levels in real time and then automatically adjust the amount of insulin it delivers. If approved, it could be the world’s first “artificial pancreas”, which in the industry, is considered to be the ‘Holy Grail’ of diabetes management.

Having been involved with research into living with type 1 diabetes, I was particularly interested in this announcement. The proposed system, which Medtronic hope will be approved in early 2017, is made up of their MiniMed 670G insulin pump, glucose monitors and a control algorithm. In order to receive the ‘smart medication’, patients will wear a set of sensors for seven days and an insulin pump for three days until they will need to be respectively recharged and refilled.

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How could this development help?

One of the things that I took away from our research into type 1 diabetes, was that the burden of living with it is incredible. The physical amount of equipment, medication and emergency food needed to manage the condition is immense – whether that’s glucose meters, test strips, lancets, insulin pens or pumps, glucagon injections, energy drinks or sweets. With all that’s needed to manage it, you’d almost think that it was a stay at home disease, but it isn’t, so not only do people have to store all this somewhere, they also need to take it all out with them every time they leave the house.

Couple all that with the fact that managing the balance between glucose levels and insulin injections can be so random, that it is just a constant process of testing blood sugar levels and injecting insulin multiple times a day making sure you are compensating for what you eat.

So after reading these announcements and following the developments of the industry, like my colleague Chris who went to ATTD in Milan earlier this year, it makes you wonder if the approval of a device like this could completely revolutionise the life of someone with type 1 diabetes?

 
What benefits could it offer?

For starters, it’s a ‘closed loop system’. That means it will be able to measure your blood glucose levels and then administer the correct amount of insulin without any input from the user – just like a healthy pancreas would. No more multiple finger pricks, calculating of doses and administering of injections. That alone could dramatically reduce the burden on the patient.

It would also go a long way to alleviating the worry and concern with night-time hypoglycaemia which many of our research respondents claimed to be a real worry. This currently doesn’t just affect those with diabetes, who are constantly worried if their body is just going to give up on them overnight, but also with their partners and family members who have to be aware too. This could be a game changer for overcoming night-time worries.

Perhaps with all of its benefits, it might even allow people to ‘forget’ they have diabetes from time to time and feel normal for once – something that the respondents in our research were so desperate to be able to do.

I can only hope that as technology progresses, we all continue to learn more about living and managing with complex conditions like diabetes. We need devices like the one mentioned in this article, or others that are in development, to obtain approval and become easily available and affordable for those who really need them. I can only see that the benefits would be incredible for those who are struggling with the daily burden of the disease.

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