Insulin alert

Diabetics could reduce the amount of insulin they take with the help of a new wireless body monitoring system that aims to predict blood glucose levels several hours ahead.

The technology is the intended result of a four-year £6m EU project co-ordinated by diabetes care company Novo Nordisk.

The Personal Glucose Predictive Diabetes Advisor (DIAdvisor) will be based on existing wireless body monitoring technology from Oxfordshire-based project partner Toumaz Technology.

Small, unobtrusive wireless sensors, packed with a low-power silicon chip, will stick to the body of diabetics like a plaster to monitor vital signs such as ECG, temperature, blood pressure and blood glucose and oxygen levels. Similar sensors will use three-axis accelerometers to measure the amount of energy patients exert.

The system will wirelessly transmit data to a hand-held mobile device such as a Personal Data Assistant (PDA). This will then be merged with manually entered information, such as food intake. An advanced algorithm will then analyse and convert the data to predict blood glucose levels. This, said the developers, will give patients advice, within minutes, on the amount of insulin to take for their next dose.

Keith Errey, Toumaz chief executive and co-founder, said current diabetes management techniques have almost no ability to predict what blood glucose levels might be in several hours.

’What diabetics face now is a real problem,’ he said. ’If they prick their finger and measure their blood glucose, they’re measuring the history of what it has been up to that point.

’Therefore they must make assumptions about how much insulin they need to take to return to stable blood glucose level.’

The technology is hoped to obviate the risk of fainting spells diabetics run if their blood sugar drops dramatically — and many prefer to take higher doses of insulin than necessary to negate this, with potentially damaging consequences.

’Patients with excessively high blood glucose levels are fine in the short term, but maintaining conditions like this for years can have long-term problems such as damage to the eyes, heart and liver,’ said Errey.

Toumaz has already developed wireless body sensors that measure vital signs such as ECG, temperature and blood glucose and oxygen levels. Its product, Sensium, featured in The Engineer two years ago, is scheduled for commercialisation later this year.

While Toumaz’s technology lays the foundation for DIAdvisor, there are still many challenges the consortium faces.

Errey said the project collaborators are unsure about which combination of vital signs will provide the information they need for their blood glucose predicting algorithms.

To determine this, the teams will employ the services of a group of volunteer diabetics at a French hospital.

The researchers will gather vital signs from each patient and create initial physiological modelling and prediction algorithms.

A second round of clinical trials will take place in two years where the algorithms will be run in real-time and the predictability models will be tested.

If all goes according to plan, Errey said the consortium could have a technology ready for market within four years. However, he added that the project only funds research on technology, not product development.

He said the need for this type of technology is becoming more and more apparent, noting that demographic trends such as increasing obesity, ageing population and increasingly sedentary lifestyles have led to an explosion in diabetes. In the EU, average diabetes prevalence rates are now at 7.5 per cent, with a predicted growth to 16 per cent by 2025.

The consortium estimates the annual global market for medical devices for diabetics is over £4bn.

Dr Alison Burdett, Toumaz director of technology, claimed DIAdvisor will represent a significant step forward in diabetes care.

’With this device, we will be putting a sophisticated treatment adviser in the hands of patients for the first time, empowering them with their own healthcare management and significantly reducing the likelihood of serious complications and recurrent hospitalisation due to poor glucose control,’ she said.

’For healthcare providers, this will have a significant positive impact on cost reduction for the treatment of diabetes.’