The University of Cambridge is home to one of the eight core research groups that make up the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Consortium. This research is only possible thanks to the generosity of JDRF supporters.
The ‘artificial pancreas’ is a piece of technology that could do the job of a healthy pancreas. It would provide exactly the right amount of insulin to the body, exactly when it’s needed. An artificial pancreas system requires three things: an insulin pump, a continuous glucose monitor and an algorithm.
Currently anyone wearing an insulin pump has to manually adjust the rate at which insulin is delivered to the body. A continuous glucose sensor (CGM) is a device that can check levels of glucose in the body on a minute-to-minute basis. A sensor is inserted just under the skin to read the glucose levels. This is connected to a small wireless transmitter that sends the glucose readings to a small device that displays the readings. The person with diabetes can then use this information to adjust their insulin dose or take action to avoid a hypo.
Linking the two is an algorithm (a computer programme). For an artificial pancreas to work, the computer needs to be able to take information from a CGM and use it to work out whether the glucose levels in the body are too high, too low or just right. If the levels are either too high or too low the computer programme then needs to tell the insulin pump to give more or less insulin.
People who use both a CGM and an insulin pump can be said to use an ‘open loop’ system. This is because while the CGM can detect changes to glucose levels induced by changing doses of insulin from the insulin pump, the CGM cannot ‘talk’ to the insulin pump and tell it how to respond to this information – the person with diabetes has to bridge this gap by making their own manual adjustments.
By developing an artificial pancreas JDRF aims to close this loop, allowing the devices to talk to each other without the need for human intervention.
To find out more or to donate, go to JDRF.