After 28 years of injecting himself up to ten times a day with insulin, Tim Street was convinced there must be an easier way to manage his type 1 diabetes.
He was diagnosed with the autoimmune condition — where the pancreas doesn’t produce the hormone insulin, needed to control blood sugar levels — at the age of 13.
Like all of the 460,000 Brits with type 1 diabetes, Tim has to constantly monitor his blood sugar levels and inject insulin many times a day to stay alive.
Traditionally, this involves a finger-prick test. Based on the readings, patients then give themselves enough insulin to keep their blood sugar levels stable, either by injection or by manually pressing a button on a pump — a matchbox-sized electronic device that administers the insulin through a tube attached to the abdomen.
Fact: Too much insulin will cause blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low (hypoglycemia) — leading to cold sweats, confusion, trembling hands and seizures
Another option is a continuous glucose monitoring device, such as the FreeStyle Libre, the patch-like sensor worn by Prime Minister Theresa May (who was diagnosed with type 1 in 2012). This sends glucose readings 24/7 to a mobile phone or reader.
Although it has been available on the NHS since November 2017, a third of local health authorities refused to fund it. However, last November, NHS England announced that all eligible patients will get access to these devices from April.
Tim had a continuous glucose monitoring device and an insulin pump, but even these aren’t without their problems. Doing diabetes ‘maths’ is difficult, as day-to-day management of the condition involves a lot of numbers. Administer too little insulin and blood sugar rises, causing increased thirst and headaches in the short term. Long term, it can result in blindness, kidney failure and damage to blood vessels and skin, leading to amputation.
Too much insulin will cause blood sugar levels to drop dangerously low (hypoglycemia) — leading to cold sweats, confusion, trembling hands and seizures.
Scientists have been working on an artificial pancreas for decades, but progress has been slow.
Last October, doctors from the University of Cambridge revealed they’d trialled such a system on 46 patients for 12 weeks. Those using the system had healthy blood sugar levels for almost 65 per cent of their time,