Artificial pancreas ‘safe for pregnant women’
Pregnant women with type 1 diabetes can use an “artificial pancreas” safely, research has indicated.
The device continuously monitors blood glucose level, calculating and delivering the right amount of insulin needed through a pump.
The technology has the potential to transform the treatment of people with type 1 diabetes.
The most recent study focused on 16 women with type 1 diabetes and who are expecting.
It was funded by Diabetes UK and the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) and was carried out by Professor Helen Murphy and Dr Zoe Stewart at the Institute of Metabolic Science at the University of Cambridge.
Dr Zoe Stewart, the lead author on the study, said: “Managing type 1 diabetes in pregnancy can be really difficult. Hormonal changes that occur in pregnancy make it difficult to predict the best insulin doses for each woman.
“The artificial pancreas automates the insulin delivery giving better glucose control than we can achieve with current available treatments. We are so pleased that this technology is closer to being a reality for women with type 1 diabetes that want to have a child.”
Controlling blood glucose levels is a daily challenge for people with type 1 diabetes and is particularly crucial during pregnancy.
If the condition is not managed properly, it can increase the risk of complications such as premature birth, large babies, admission to neonatal care units, stillbirth and infant mortality.
National surveys show that one in two babies suffer complications related to type 1 diabetes in the mother.
The research showed the artificial pancreas was associated with a 25 per cent relative improvement in glucose control compared with the current best available treatment – a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump.
I was able to keep some of the equipment for about a month after the birth and then I had to hand it back. To be honest it felt like I was losing a limb.
Laura Carver, 28, from Norfolk, was asked by her diabetes nurse a few weeks into her pregnancy if she would be interested in taking part in the trial.
She said: “Initially I wasn’t keen on the idea. I had been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes when I was 18-months-old and thought I was more than capable of managing it by myself.
“But I had suffered a miscarriage the previous Christmas and when I spoke to my husband and parents about the study they felt it was a good opportunity. The researchers discussed the study with me at length and that helped to reassure me.”
Laura and her husband Gordon were trained on the equipment.
‘Hope and confidence’
She added :”It was all new to me, because I hadn’t even used an insulin pump before – I’d been used to injecting myself with insulin up to six times a day.”
Laura saw a huge improvement in her blood glucose control during the study.
She said: “I noticed that my blood glucose levels were within target range for much more of the time after I entered the study. I did have to carry the equipment around with me everywhere but that felt like a small price to pay to make sure me and the baby were healthy.
“I was able to keep some of the equipment for about a month after the birth and then I had to hand it back. To be honest it felt like I was losing a limb.
“The whole experience has given me hope and confidence if I was to ever have another baby. The miscarriage was very, very hard and I blamed myself and worried it would happen again. Being part of this study took a bit of the fear away. Certainly if this technology was available I wouldn’t hesitate in using it again.”
Dr Elizabeth Robertson, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: “Artificial pancreas technology has the potential to transform the treatment of type 1 diabetes, and could be particularly pivotal for women during pregnancy who often struggle with managing their blood glucose levels.
“This study represents a real breakthrough in helping women to take control of their condition, and we’re very excited about the direction this research is moving.
“Diabetes UK have been investing in the development of the artificial pancreas since 1977 when we bought the first machine in the UK – which was the size of a filing cabinet. Now we’re watching people use tablets or mobile phones, and it’s an incredible achievement.
“In the meantime anyone with type 1 diabetes who is planning on getting pregnant now should speak to their healthcare professional to get the help and support they need.”