‘I never dreamed this would be developed in my lifetime’

Charlotte Abbott-Pierce with her artificial pancreas – NHS

A sensor that is inserted under the skin to take a reading of blood glucose and then send the information to an insulin pump to adjusts body levels sounds simple enough.

In reality though, this could be a life-changing revelation for 400,000 people living with type-1 diabetes in the UK, where this new artificial pancreas technology has been pioneered.

It’s the first country where such equipment has been tested, and it’s allowing some people to get on with large chunks of the day without worrying about their blood sugar levels. Among these is 6-year-old Charlotte from Lancashire—just one of 200 children now using this new system—and Yasmin Hopkins, 27, from London.

“I wake up now and I can do a normal day’s work, or go on a dog walk without being concerned,” Yasmin told the BBC. She was diagnosed with type-1 diabetes 15 years ago, and along with being disrupted constantly during the day, she was always worried.

Developed by the NHS, 875 people have so far received the artificial system, and their results, as part of a long-term trial, will inform an assessment conducted by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence about how and where to roll out more of these devices in the future.

But new research presented this week at the Diabetes UK Professional Conference 2022 revealed that flash monitoring not only helps to improve blood glucose levels in people with type 1 diabetes, but also has a positive effect on their quality of life.

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“Before I started using a flash glucose monitor, I carried my blood glucose testing kit with me everywhere and would have to test up to eight times per day,” said 25-year-old Olivia, who was diagnosed with type 1 when she was 7. “I was picking my finger and testing my blood sugar before breakfast, before lunch, before dinner and before bed. Before driving in the car, and after driving for two hours—endless testing!”

“Growing up with diabetes, I’d never dreamed that a device like a flash glucose monitor would be developed in my lifetime—and when I first started using one, I couldn’t quite believe something so small had such a big impact,” she told the NHS. “It’s helped me have more confidence and improved my mental well-being.”

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It’s not a totally automated system, in that the amount of carbohydrates eaten at meals has to be entered into a smartphone app to ensure the insulin levels don’t go too high.

But, Charlotte’s parents have said it allowed her to get back to something she loved to do but hasn’t been able to do for sometime: be a kid again.

“She loves days out with her friends and sleepovers, but we had to stop these as soon as she was diagnosed because other people couldn’t manage her diabetes,” Ange Abbott, Charlotte’s mother, told the BBC.

“Now we can allow her to go out for these social occasions when we’re not there.”

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