Diabetes breakthroughs

Diabetes breakthroughs

From the artificial pancreas to new ways of testing blood sugar and more, we take a look at the future for those with diabetes.

Diabetes is a rollercoaster ride of blood sugar ups and downs, and tight control can be hard work. But there’s good news: while some researchers are working on a cure, others are making life easier for those with diabetes right now, through technology.

Carine Visagie brings you a roundup of the top new technologies out there.

Glucose-monitoring devices

 

Continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) devices are soon going to take blood sugar control to another level.

With the help of tiny electrodes stuck beneath the skin, CGM devices allow for real-time glucose readings throughout the day. The results are sent wirelessly to a monitor you can clip onto your belt and access on the go, and some devices can even send results to your doctor. Normal finger prick testing is still required (for a double check and to calibrate the CGM sensor), but you can rest assured that a CGM device will alert you if your sugar spikes or drops below your limits.

Examples include the Flash Glucose Monitoring System (Abbott) and the Guardian REAL-Time Continuous Glucose Monitoring System (Medtronic).

Ask the expert: Dr Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“24-hour glucose monitoring is going to be very helpful in patients that have difficulty controlling their blood glucose levels, as it will provide a 24-hour 360-degree view of their diabetes control.”

Ask the expert: Dr Wayne May, endocrinologist
“I’m looking forward to the Abbotts Flash Monitor, as it will stay on for 14 days and doesn’t require calibrating with a second machine.”


Insulin pumps

Insulin pumps keep getting smarter: some of the latest ones sync with CGM devices, while others are incredibly accurate at giving just the right insulin dose at the right time.

One example is the touch-screen Tandem t:slim insulin pump, which shows the date, time, how much insulin is ‘on board’ (seeing this before you bolus can help you avoid stacking your insulin*), duration of insulin action, and the amount of insulin in the reservoir. It looks like a smartphone and data is easily transferrable via a USB port. Plus, it can deliver insulin in very small doses.
*Insulin stacking is injecting a second dose too soon after a first, without taking into account the insulin already in your system. This can result in low blood sugar.

Another insulin pump to watch is the MiniMed530G by Medtronic – the first pump to shut off when blood sugar goes below a predetermined level.

Ask the expert: Dr Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“Although an insulin pump isn’t the ideal way of administering insulin for everyone, many diabetics find a pump improves their diabetes control and quality of life. Since the addition of CGM, the use of this technology has improved even more, especially in children and patients with very erratic blood sugar.”


Bionic pancreas


Bionic (artificial) pancreas systems are the next big thing in diabetes management. These systems, the first of which is still being tested, combine the latest CGM tech with the most advanced insulin pump tech and add a sophisticated computer programme to simulate the function of the pancreas.

The system constantly checks blood sugar levels by means of a CGM, and responds automatically by administering either insulin (to lower blood sugar) or glucagon (to raise blood sugar levels quickly) via two separate pumps. The system hooks up to a programme on your smartphone that makes decisions every few minutes, telling the pumps via Bluetooth how much hormone to deliver.

The bionic pancreas should be available in the next 5 years.

Ask the expert: Dr Joel Dave, endocrinologist
“The artificial pancreas has been the ‘holy grail’ for diabetes care for many years. The system has been vastly improved and early studies are showing great promise. Although not for routine clinical use at the moment, in the near future it will be a life-changing addition to the diabetes care of many patients.”

What about now? Smartphone apps for diabetes

If the future of diabetes tech seems too far away, keep an eye out for apps that can help you deal with diabetes right now, on your smartphone. We like:
Glucose Buddy: to track blood sugar readings, insulin doses, carb intake, exercise, blood pressure and weight, and
Diabetic Connect:
helping you tap into trusted advice, friends, support and tips.

But be warned: many international apps use mg/dL, the US blood glucose standard, instead of mmol/l, the South African standard.

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