Hypoglycaemia, or a ‘hypo’, occurs when the blood glucose level of people with diabetes drops too low. If left untreated, a hypo can eventually lead to unconsciousness and, in extreme cases, may even prove fatal.
To help bring attention to this serious but common complication of diabetes, the first ever national ‘Hypo Awareness Week’ will be taking place next week, from 13-19 August 2012.
JDRF is showing its support for the NHS campaign by highlighting the ground breaking research that it is funding to help reduce the impact of hypoglycaemia.
Karen Addington, Chief Executive of JDRF, said: “Hypoglycaemia is one of the most common and potentially severe side effects of insulin therapy. As the world’s leading charitable funder of type 1 diabetes research we are currently leading on worldwide research aimed at reducing the impact of hypoglycaemia and we are working towards reducing and even, one day, eliminating hypos.”
In the UK, JDRF is funding a large research project at the University of Cambridge to develop a ‘closed loop’ artificial pancreas that can control blood glucose levels without much input from the user. Consisting of a continuous glucose monitor, an insulin pump and a computer algorithm (as pictured), measurements are taken from the monitor which tell the pump when it needs to administer insulin.
The initial trials of this new device have been extremely positive, showing that the device can keep a tighter control on glucose levels than pump therapy alone and almost eliminate overnight hypos. The Cambridge research team has just begun a new trial of the artificial pancreas in outpatient volunteers, to see if it works as well in day to day life.
With JDRF funding, researchers at the University of Dundee in Scotland are also progressing some exciting research which investigates how the brain responds to hypos. Previous studies have shown that some people with type 1 gradually lose the ability to sense hypos and no longer experience the warning symptoms to alert them to hypos. Thisis called ‘hypo unawareness’ and can result in more severe episodes. Researchers are developing drug therapies with support from JDRF which may in time be able to reduce and even eliminate both of these factors.
Last year JDRF launched a competition among researchers to develop glucose-responsive insulin, which is a new form of insulin that would work only when the body needs it, ideally only being administered once a day and remaining inactive in the blood until glucose levels are high. When glucose levels became high the exact amount of insulin needed to bring blood glucose levels back down would then be activated, therefore eliminating the risk of hypos. The JDRF prize money on offer will help the winning team make this idea a reality.
Karen said: “Only research will find the cure for type 1 diabetes and we exist to fund this research. We have some extremely exciting global research studies progressing with our research partners and are very happy to support the NHS’s Hypo Awareness Week.”