More than 150,000 adults and children with type 1 diabetes are now eligible to get an ‘artificial pancreas’.
NHS regulators have today approved hybrid closed-loop system technology, which experts say is the ‘biggest breakthrough since insulin’.
The high-tech device continuously tracks blood sugar levels through a sensor stuck to the body.
Readings are fed straight back to a body-worn insulin pump, with an algorithm then calculating how much of the hormone needs to be released.
An artificial pancreas to manage type 1 diabetes could soon be offered to NHS patients after a major trial produced ‘blisteringly brilliant’ early results. The high-tech kit continuously monitors glucose levels via sensors under a patient’s skin and, when needed, automatically delivers insulin to the bloodstream – a job normally carried out in the body by the pancreas
National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) chiefs recommend people in England and Wales can get a hybrid closed loop system if their type 1 diabetes is not adequately controlled.
Nearly 300,000 people in England and Wales are estimated to have the autoimmune condition. This includes thousands of children.
It occurs when the body stops making enough insulin to regulate blood sugar levels.
Sufferers typically have to regularly measure blood glucose levels using finger-prick blood tests.
Some already use a continuous glucose monitor, allowing them to manage their own levels with multiple daily insulin injections.
How will the ‘artificial pancreas’ work?
The technology – which costs less than £5,000 per patient – uses a ‘hybrid closed-loop system’ sensor to continually monitor blood glucose.
The sensor wirelessly transmits readings to the high-tech insulin pump which runs a mathematical calculation to work out how much insulin needs to be delivered at a time into the body to keep blood glucose levels within a healthy range.
The body worn insulin pump then automatically delivers insulin into the bloodstream.
This can be particularly challenging for children given the variations in the levels of insulin required and the unpredictability that surrounds how much youngsters eat and exercise.
They are at higher risk of dangerously low blood sugar levels (hypoglycaemia) and high ones (hyperglycaemia), which can cause damage and even prove fatal.
Hybrid closed loop system technology costs less than £5,000 per patient.
All children and young people, women who are pregnant or planning a pregnancy, and sufferers who already have an insulin pump will be first to be offered the gadget as part of a five-year roll-out plan.
Professor Jonathan Benger, chief medical officer at Nice, said: ‘With around 10 per cent of the entire NHS budget being spent on diabetes, it is important for NICE to focus on what matters most by ensuring the best value for money technologies are available to healthcare professionals and patients.
‘Using hybrid closed loop systems will be a game changer for people with type 1 diabetes.
‘By ensuring their blood glucose levels are within the recommended range, people are less likely to have complications such as disabling hypoglycaemia, strokes and heart attacks, which lead to costly NHS care.
‘This technology will improve the health and wellbeing of patients, and save the NHS money in the long term.’
Colette Marshall, chief executive of Diabetes UK, said the new technology ‘has the potential to transform the lives of many people with type 1 diabetes, improving both health and quality of life’.
She said: ‘We’re excited to welcome these recommendations which broaden access to the technology for key groups including children and young people, recognising our comments to the consultation earlier this year.
‘However, funding to roll out this technology to the people that need it is of paramount importance and we re-iterate the campaign call we made last month for Government and the NHS to agree this.
‘We’ll also be working with the NHS to help ensure that everyone who could benefit from this technology has access to it as soon as possible in the phased rollout that has been agreed to achieve this.’
Dr Partha Kar, national specialty adviser for diabetes said: ‘This is amazing news for people living with type 1 diabetes and this announcement can be made possible thanks to the hard work of the NHS, once again trialling and testing the best and latest innovations for the benefit of our patients.
‘This tech might sound sci-fi like but it will have a dramatic impact on the quality of people’s lives, not to mention outcomes – it is as close to the holy grail of a fully automated system as science can provide at the moment, where people with type 1 diabetes can get on with their lives without worrying about glucose levels or medication.’
The Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) called it ‘the biggest treatment breakthrough for type 1 diabetes since the discovery of insulin’.
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