Liberating diabetic patients

For the last four years, endocrinologists Associate Professor David O’Neal and Dr Sybil McAuley have worked together as part of a team in pursuit of the ultimate goal of developing a reliable and accurate ‘artificial pancreas’. Their efforts could contribute to relieving the burden for the more than 120,000 Australians who live with type 1 diabetes.

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Associate Professor David O’Neal and Dr Sybil McAuley

The aim of this marathon research journey is to identify the most accurate, effective and least invasive way to measure glucose and deliver insulin.

‘An artificial pancreas is already a reality in the research world, though we are not quite there yet to implement this technology into everyday clinical practice. We are taking small steps towards that goal, by improving the reliability and accuracy in comparison to existing devices.’ Dr McAuley says.

A/Prof O’Neal agrees. ‘As a result of their pancreas no longer producing insulin to regulate glucose, people with type 1 diabetes need to measure their blood glucose levels by performing finger pricks several times a day.’

The artificial pancreas devices will automatically measure blood glucose and deliver the precise amount of insulin needed.

‘It is hoped that this artificial pancreas will offer significant benefits both in terms of health outcomes and quality of life for people with Type 1 diabetes,’ says A/Prof O’Neal.

An important component of an artificial pancreas is a continuous glucose sensor. Glucose sensor technology has been evolving with the goal of achieving a level of accuracy required to replace finger prick glucose testing, together with a level of reliability for use in an artificial pancreas.

A/Prof O’Neal and Dr McAuley recently completed a trial evaluating a device that combined an optical glucose sensor together with two electrochemical sensors into a single device.

‘The optical sensor works in an entirely different way to the currently available electrochemical sensors, meaning it will be able to operate under conditions which interfere with electrochemical sensing,’ Dr McAuley says. ‘By having both sensors working together, better accuracy and reliability may be achieved.’

‘Our experiments have shown that an early version of an optical sensor improved reliability, though it is not yet as accurate as other sensors. However, the optical sensor shows much potential, and with further development we hope to improve its accuracy.’

‘We are both clinicians first and foremost,’ Dr McAuley says. ‘I wanted to take part in research that is highly relevant to my clinical work, while relieving the burden of diabetes and improving the lives of my patients.’

‘The ultimate goal is the automatic delivery of insulin, liberating the patient to go about their usual daily activities.’

Dr McAuley said she has been greatly inspired by her mentor, and has gained valuable experience as a clinician researcher working with the diabetes technology research team.

‘I have recognised the value of building relationships with patients who are motivated to advance the knowledge of their chronic illness via participating in clinical research.’

‘Our clinical research is directly applicable to patient care. We aim to push the boundaries with novel technology which will hopefully provide diabetes health benefits in the not-too-distant future.’

‘When we design our studies we want to not only advance science, but also that our volunteer participants experience a tangible benefit regarding their health care,’ A/Prof O’Neal adds. ‘The positive reinforcement we receive from our patients provides an added dimension in motivating us to continue research in this field.’

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