A new type of diabetes pump that mimics the pancreas by using sensors to anticipate blood sugar levels could prevent hypoglycaemic attacks.
The MiniMed640G device, similar in size to an MP3 player, is designed to prevent low blood sugar levels before they happen and suspend the delivery of insulin, according to manufacturer Medtronic, unlike existing pumps that can only shut off insulin delivery afterwards.
It is designed to help patients with type 1 diabetes, who are eligible for insulin pump systems to constantly balance their blood sugar levels, and will be available on the NHS.
Karen Addington, chief executive of type 1 diabetes charity JDRF, said the complex and challenging condition is on the rise in the UK.
“New technologies offer people with type 1 diabetes the chance to live a fuller life with more freedom, making it easier for them to do things like eat out, sleep in on weekends, play sports and travel abroad without having to take time out to manage the condition,” she said.
The MiniMed 640G uses patented 'SmartGuard' technology to stop feeding insulin into the bloodstream before a dangerous low is predicted – usually 30 minutes before a patient’s glucose levels drop – and then also kicks back in to avoid a rebound high sugar level.
Alarms and vibrations can be set off by the pump to alert a person that they are heading towards or have reached their low glucose threshold. The system also includes a sensor which continuously monitors glucose levels.
The US firm Medtronic said that in clinical trials it prevented eight in 10 hypos, including in those who had just exercised.
Dr Pratik Choudhary, consultant in diabetes at King's College London, said: “This new MiniMed 640G system represents another important step forward towards an artificial pancreas. It will be particularly beneficial for the 5-10 per cent of type 1 patients who experience frequent serious lows and are unable to recognise lows.”
Choudhary said it was like having a car with antilock brakes to prevent an accident rather than relying on an airbag once one was in progress.