How tech could help treat and cure type-1 diabetes

There have been more advances in the field of medical devices and technology to help people manage their type-1 diabetes in the last five years than in the previous fifty

For people with the life-long condition of type-1 diabetes, being able to manage changing blood glucose levels more easily, and prevent them from going too high or too low, cannot be underestimated.

Finding the biological cure remains our ultimate objective, but while work continues in this field, ensuring people with type 1 have the best treatments is also of paramount importance.

As the years have passed, I have seen the landscape change dramatically. But while it sometimes feels like technology is moving at lightning speed, it is important to remember it can still seem like an eternity for those with type 1, who continue to struggle with the commitment and challenges that managing the condition requires.

Tech-savvy sufferers of type-1 diabetes taking matters into their own hands

I am very excited by the closed-loop artificial pancreas trial which is now in its final stages. Professor Roman Hovorka at the University of Cambridge is currently perfecting an algorithm that enables a continuous glucose monitor and an insulin pump to talk to each other, and take over the delivery of insulin throughout the day and night, to keep glucose levels in range.

But while professional researchers are making huge strides in developing algorithms that mimic the way the body works, there is also a growing community of people with type-1 diabetes who are not waiting for these to reach regulatory approval and are instead hacking technology to create their own systems.

Known as the #wearenotwaiting DIY community, these tech-savvy people are able to access free open-source technology, which provides them with the means to create their own ways of automating insulin delivery, at their own risk.

As a global network of medical research charities, the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) is driving research into new treatments that present tremendous opportunities to deliver enhanced health and wellbeing for people with type-1 diabetes. The technology I am currently most enthused about is glucose responsive insulin, which I think is going to transform how people treat and live with type 1 in the future.

Also known as smart insulin, Professor John Fossey at the University of Birmingham is developing this type of insulin delivery system which is designed to circulate in the body, inactive, until blood glucose levels start to rise. As they do, the insulin goes to work to bring these levels back down, ensuring perfect glucose control throughout any given day.

Tech innovation could speed up finding a cure for type-1 diabetes

But despite the advances we are seeing, access to the full range of medical technology is still out of financial reach for many.

Flash glucose devices, which use a sensor to monitor glucose levels continuously, were made available in November 2017 on the NHS Drugs Tariff, which means in principle the FreeStyle Libre can be provided on NHS prescription, but options for many are restricted by postcode lotteries.

While many clinical commissioning groups and clinics are delivering flash to people with type-1 diabetes in their areas, there is still much to do. And JDRF and Diabetes UK are, therefore, working together with NHS England to open up access and reduce health inequality.

Innovation in technology is not just fuelling advances in diabetes treatments though. I know it will accelerate the path to the cure. And this is what unites people with type-1 diabetes, researchers, our charitable supporters and funders. I am convinced one day we will consign type 1 to the history books and no one will ever receive this life-changing diagnosis again.