Ground-breaking study into Type 1 diabetes

“I’ve lived with Type 1 diabetes for 32 years, but in many ways it remains a constant puzzle to me,” says Cath Stephenson. “It hasn’t stopped me living life to the full, but I’ve never stopped wanting to find answers and of course a cure. It’s for this reason I decided to get involved in research and participate in clinical trials at St Vincent’s, in the hope that I can contribute to achieving this. The ‘artificial pancreas’ study appealed to me as I’ve always valued the ways evolving technology have helped me live with this condition over the years.”

St Vincent’s Endocrinologist Associate Professor David O’Neal is the Principal Investigator of the study that saw Cath trial an innovative smart phone application that is integral to achieving a closed loop system or ‘artificial pancreas’.

Cath is one of 12 Victorian adults and 12 Western Australian children who are participating in the trial. “In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas stops making the hormone insulin, which means the body cannot use glucose effectively,” explains A/Prof O’Neal.

“People with Type 1 diabetes have to manually measure their blood glucose levels via a finger prick several times a day, or wear a continuous glucose monitor at considerable personal expense, to give them information about their changing insulin requirements.” “This method can be imprecise despite people using the best technology currently available in the marketplace,” A/Prof O’Neal explains.

“Our involvement in this study brings us into collaboration with Medtronic – a leading insulin pump manufacturer. Medtronic has developed a ‘closed loop system’ involving an insulin pump, a glucose transmitter and a smart phone application, which receives real-time glucose level information from the insulin pump and then provides feedback on precise insulin dosing every five minutes.  It is hoped that this automated method will offer significant benefits both in terms of health outcomes and quality of life for people with Type 1 diabetes.” Cath echoes these sentiments.

“My experience using this device has been a really positive one,” she says. “My blood sugar levels are now better regulated than they have ever been. I’m less tired, more alert and don’t feel sick all the time. Having been on this trial, it really gives me hope that improved diabetes technology will make my life easier and enable me to maintain my independence in my older years, especially as I live alone.”

This ground-breaking collaborative study is funded by the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. It involves researchers from St Vincent’s, Royal Melbourne, Alfred and Princess Margaret hospitals, along with The University of Melbourne, The University of Sydney and Deakin University.

“While a cure is what we are ultimately after, technological advances are the next best thing,” Cath concludes. “This device could make a massive difference in people’s lives, so it’s essential that everyone can access these technologies.”

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