Diabetes Week : Artificial Intelligence in the Battle for Diabetes by Melanie Stephenson


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If those of us who have the condition were honest with ourselves, sometimes you might day-dream about what things would be like without injections/diabetes/hypos. Or about what it would be like if it were possible to have a holiday from diabetes. For every year that you have the condition, I think it gets harder to remember what life was like without diabetes. I’m at the point where I’ve had diabetes for 12 years and was 13 years old when I was diagnosed, so being 25 years old the year after next I will of had diabetes a longer amount of time than not.

Recently at the young persons project (#YPP) I attended with Diabetes UK in North Wales in preparation for the ‘family weekends’, we did a great exercise. In groups of 4 people we created a robot. But this was no ordinary robot… oh no. This was a drawing of the perfect hypo treatment robot. The one that we created in my group had an emergency energy drink on tap, it had a toilet (because we all agreed that people with diabetes do go a lot), it had arms that could prick your finger to test your blood sugars and he could also become a seat in case you needed to sit down when having a hypo.

When we made Steve (the robot) we were under no illusion that he was real or that he could be made in the next couple of years. Unfortunately there is no perfect hypo cure, much the same as there is no cure for diabetes (as yet). But as this week is Diabetes week and the topic is research then this seems like a good opportunity to take a look at what is being done at the moment that could be used to treat people with the condition now. Not in a few years or a decade or a century… Now.

I got my first insulin pump about 5 years ago, however about a year ago I swapped over temporarily to one that came with a sensor you could wear separately. The function of the sensor was to take blood sugar readings minute to minute and feed the information back to the insulin pump. The pump was then able to display blood sugar readings as a graph on the pump’s screen. Technology has advanced in the last couple of months to close the loop even more. Meaning that the feedback between continuous glucose monitoring still happens. But now with the artificial pancreas, it takes the feed back from the blood sugar readings and the pump then delivers insulin accordingly.

The artificial pancreas has just been tested in a home environment, which has seen success as tested by 5 people with Type 1 diabetes. The research was done by researchers from the University of Cambridge, and was also funded by Diabetes UK. Apparently researchers believe that it could relieve the problem of night hypos and also such frequent blood glucose testing. When I was on CGM (continuous glucose monitoring) and was wearing a pump previously, there were a number of factors I found helpful. One of the aspects I found exceptionally useful was that if the pump detected that my blood sugars were falling too fast for example, it would alarm. Which for me happened before bed at what could have been a dangerous time. But thanks to this research becoming reality this kind of innovation could be a regular occurrence.

Dr Alasdair Rankin can be quoted as saying that’ the successful home trials marked a landmark in the history of diabetes research’. But one of the participants in the study mentioned that ‘It felt like I was on holiday for the whole month’s duration’. So perhaps this holiday feeling could extend to everyday diabetes life with the help of research both today and into the future.

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