‘Transformative’ artificial pancreases under NHS pilot

‘Transformative’ artificial pancreases under NHS pilot

NHS England has provided ‘life-changing’ artificial pancreases to nearly 1,000 people with type 1 diabetes as part of a national trial looking at the benefits of this innovative hybrid closed system.

The ground-breaking technology is currently being trialled in 35 NHS diabetes centres across the country before it can be rolled out nationally.

One century after insulin was first administered to a human, the revolutionary artificial pancreases have already improved the lives of 875 people in 2022.

The ‘life-altering’ artificial pancreases continuously measure blood glucose and automatically administer the required amount of insulin through a pump, therefore removing finger prick testing and reducing severe hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemia attacks.

Professor Partha Kar, NHS National Speciality Advisor for Diabetes, said: “Having machines monitor and deliver medication for people with diabetes sounds quite sci-fi like, but when you think of it, technology and machines are part and parcel of how we live our lives every day.

“A device picks up your glucose levels, sends the reading across to the delivery system – aka the pump – and then the system kicks in to assess how much insulin is needed. It is not very far away from the holy grail of a fully automated system, where people with type 1 diabetes can get on with their lives without worrying about glucose levels or medication.”

As part of the NHS’ Long-Term Plan for improving diabetes care, one fifth of people with type 1 diabetes have received a flash monitor device to help them better manage their glucose levels.

The organisation has now unveiled that everyone living with type 1 diabetes in England is entitled to receive a flash glucose monitor from the NHS.

Each year, NHS England spends roughly £10 billion on diabetes care, which is about 10 per cent of the whole budget.

According to NHS data, a third of children with type 1 diabetes struggle to manage their blood glucose levels, putting them at risk of worsening their health and quality of life in the future.

In addition, the NHS has identified strains on the mental health of children with the condition and their carers due to the constant management of blood sugar levels.

One of the children who has received an artificial pancreas from the NHS is six-year-old Charlotte Abbott-Pierce. Charlotte initially started on insulin injections then progressed to an insulin pump and a continuous glucose monitor. Now, as part of the pilot these systems work together as a hybrid closed loop (HCL) system.

Charlotte’s mum, Ange Abbott-Pierce said: “Before the HCL was fitted, my husband and I would be up every two hours every night having to check Charlotte’s blood sugars and most times giving insulin, sometimes doing finger pricks or dealing with ketones due to quick rises in blood sugar. This was really hard as we both work full time.

“The HCL has given us tighter control as the CGM is monitoring Charlotte’s blood sugars and the pump is reacting before we even know there’s a problem. Hormones are a big factor at the moment, so interventions are still needed but this system is a god send to us as we were at our wits’ end with worry, not being able to catch the highs before they got dangerous.”

Yasmin Hopkins, 27, from London has also received an artificial pancreas as part of the NHS pilot.

The 27-year-old has been living with type 1 diabetes for 16 years and started pump therapy six years ago, which helped her control her diabetes. However, Yasmin still suffered from peaks and troughs, diabetes burnout and general fluctuations of glucose levels.

Yasmin said: “I became aware of the emerging research into artificial pancreases, and fortunately for myself, my amazing diabetes team are part of the NHS pilot study. From here, I instantly contacted the team, and I was eligible to enrol. Since then, I haven’t looked back.

“The connection between the monitor and insulin pump means that I can enjoy my life, whilst limiting the highs and lows, changing my life for the better. This amazing innovative technology hasn’t just benefitted me, it has also benefitted my family and friends – my boyfriend constantly emphasises that this technology will change lives the way that it has changed mine – even if it does beep extremely loud at 4am.”

Chris Askew OBE, Chief Executive of Diabetes UK, said: “This technology has the potential to transform the lives of people with type 1 diabetes, improving both their quality of life and clinical outcomes.

“The trial will generate real-world data which will hopefully support the case for more people having access to this life-changing tech in the future and while widening access to diabetes tech remains a priority for Diabetes UK, the NHS’ rollout of this scheme is a very significant and a positive step in the right direction.”

He added: “We are proud of our legacy of artificial pancreas research and will continue to support NHS England as the pilot progresses.”

The data collected from the pilot, along with other evidence, will be considered by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) as part of a technology assessment. NICE will make a recommendation about wider adoption within the NHS following a review of the evidence.

Author: Eileen Gilbert