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A view from Vienna, day 4: type 1 tech and treatments

19 September 2014

This week, Conor McKeever (our Research Communication Officer) is reporting from the European Association for the Study of Diabetes conference in Vienna. Each day he'll be reporting on the things he's found interesting and exciting from Europe's biggest meeting of diabetes researchers.

It’s hard to believe that the JDRF Artificial Pancreas Program was launched only eight years ago. Since then, we’ve gone from a few prototype devices being used by one or two people, to three-week and three-month trials of the artificial pancreas at home, unsupervised by researchers.

But as exciting and as close to reality the first generation devices are now, we’re not resting on our laurels. Thursday’s presentations from researchers focused on all elements of the artificial pancreas – CGMs, pumps and the algorithm – and how we can get the most from them.

Dr Hood Thabit and Dr Martin Tauschmann, both working as part of the University of Cambridge artificial pancreas team, were among those in Vienna to share their results.

They’ve found that using the artificial pancreas overnight helps people to bring their glucose levels down, without increasing the risk of hypos – a success that we’ve previously reported on. They’re also looking at why some people do better than others on the trials, to see what can be done to improve the efficacy of the device. At the moment, according to Dr Tauschmann, the longer a person has had type 1, the less time they spend in the target blood glucose range when using the artificial pancreas. If the researchers can establish why this is, they will use that information to make the device even better than it is currently.

Dr Thabit also discussed a CGM accuracy trial that had supported their decision to allow the artificial pancreas to be used at home. It was no small undertaking, taking the equivalent of 2,002 days’ use (nearly 5 ½ years!) for the CGMs being used to be deemed accurate enough. This, if anything, made it clear that the researchers are dedicated to making the best artificial pancreas system possible.

Later, we heard from Dr Roberto Trevisan of the Papa Giovanni XXIII Hospital in Bergamo, Italy, who has found that using insulin pumps can help people with type 1 avoid complications. Dr Trevisan’s trial suggested that even when blood glucose levels were similar to those of people using insulin injections, using a pump reduced the risks of kidney problems.

To round off the day, Professor Eric Renard, of the University of Montpellier, gave his opinion on whether ‘the dream’ of an artificial pancreas could ever become reality. Drawing together the histories of CGMs and pumps, from the unwieldy and inaccurate devices of the 70s and 80s, to the increasingly complex simulators of the last few years that have allowed the two devices to work together, he made it clear he believes the artificial pancreas is closer than ever.

“Closed loop insulin delivery at night is already safe, effective and sustainable in the home, while 24/7 use is feasible, with several trials ongoing,” he concluded.

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