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AI-Based Artificial Pancreas Offers Better Control of Type 1 Diabetes in Children

A new artificial-intelligence-based technology developed by University of Cambridge researchers offers children with type 1 diabetes and their parents a better way of managing blood sugar levels.

This “artificial pancreas,” as the it’s been termed, monitors blood glucose levels and automatically adjusts insulin pump rates based on predicted blood glucose changes. This technological breakthrough enables healthcare leaders to offer new innovation to better manage the long-term outcomes of young people with diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes, also called juvenile diabetes, primarily affects children. If not controlled well, the blood glucose fluctuations caused by type 1 diabetes can cause long-term problems, such as lower IQ scores and slow brain growth.

Current treatments for type 1 diabetes often involve using a sensor and insulin pump to continuously administer insulin. These systems require manual review and adjustments of the rate of insulin being administered. While these systems are often effective for adults and teens, they do not work well for parents who monitor their children’s blood sugar levels and insulin administration rates.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge developed CamAPS FX, an app designed to improve the outcomes of patients with type 1 diabetes. When combined with a glucose monitor and an insulin pump, this app will act as an artificial pancreas that uses machine learning to predict what levels of insulin should be given.

camaps-fx-app“CamAPS FX makes predictions about what it thinks is likely to happen next based on past experience,” said Roman Hovorka, RNDr, PhD, Professor of Metabolic Technology at the University of Cambridge’s Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science. “It learns how much insulin the child needs per day and how this changes at different times of the day. It then uses this to adjust insulin levels to help achieve ideal blood sugar levels. Other than at mealtimes, it is fully automated, so parents do not need to continually monitor their childs blood sugar levels.”

App and Insulin Pump Operate on Their Own

The AI algorithm essentially allows the insulin pump to operate in a fully automated way except for at mealtimes. This reduces the stress and burden on the parents of young children with type 1 diabetes. CamAPS FX will also send text alerts to parents if their child’s blood sugar levels go outside of acceptable ranges.

Beyond creating a high workload for parents, maintaining blood sugar levels manually also creates a high emotional burden due to the complications that can occur if they are not managed correctly.

“Very young children are extremely vulnerable to changes in their blood sugar levels,” said Julia Ware, MD, MBChB, a Clinical Fellow at the Wellcome-MRC Institute of Metabolic Science. “High levels in particular can have potentially lasting consequences to their brain development. On top of that, diabetes is very challenging to manage in this age group, creating a huge burden for families.”

Ware is the first author of the study about the new diabetes technology that was published on Jan. 20 in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The artificial pancreas resulted in improved clinical measure for the patients it was tested on. “CamAPS FX led to improvements in several measures, including hyperglycaemia and average blood sugar levels, without increasing the risk of [low blood sugar episodes],” Ware explained.

App Reduces Burden on Caregivers of Pediatric Patients

Another benefit beyond the improved clinical measures, however, was the peace of mind that the app provided to caregivers.

“Parents have described our artificial pancreas as ‘life changing’ as it meant they were able to relax and spend less time worrying about their childs blood sugar levels, particularly at nighttime,” Ware expounded. “They tell us it gives them more time to do what any ‘normal’ family can do: to play and do fun things with their children.”

This app is the culmination of years of research, as the first clinical trials of the algorithms to the latest findings has taken more than a decade, Hovorka said.

Healthcare leaders, especially those with a focus on pediatric or endocrine medicine, should be aware of the new AI-based technology and the potential that it offers their patients. By offering pediatric patients with type 1 diabetes access to the CamAPS FX app, healthcare leaders can improve outcomes for this chronic condition while better supporting young patients and their families.

—Caleb Williams

Related Resources:

CamAPS FX app

The life-changing artificial pancreas

Randomized Trial of Closed-Loop Control in Very Young Children with Type 1 Diabetes

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