Healthy living

Artificial pancreas hope for pregnant women with diabetes

Artificial pancreas  hope for pregant women with diabetes Maintains blood glucose levels

Scientists have developed an artificial pancreas, which could lead to a dramatic reduction in the number of stillborn babies born to mothers with type 1 diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune disease where the insulin-producing cells of the pancreas are destroyed, so that those affected are dependent on insulin injections to help maintain normal blood glucose levels.

Hormonal changes during pregnancy make it very difficult for pregnant women with diabetes to maintain safe blood glucose levels. Babies of women with diabetes are five times as likely to be stillborn, three times as likely to die in their first months of life and twice as likely to have a major deformity.

Two in three mothers with pre-existing diabetes have Type 1 diabetes. Low blood glucose levels - also known as hypoglycaemia - during pregnancy also increase the risk of maternal death.

Researchers at Cambridge University developed an "artificial pancreas" consisting of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) combined with an insulin pump to automatically provide the correct amount of insulin at the right time, especially at night when hypoglycaemia can be more of a problem.

When tested on ten pregnant women, the device was able to maintain near normal blood glucose levels, preventing hypoglycaemia at night and in both the early and late stages of pregnancy.

Previous studies have shown that pregnant women with the condition spend an average of ten hours a day with glucose levels outside the recommended target.

Dr Helen Murphy, who led the study, said: “For women with Type 1 diabetes, self-management is particularly challenging during pregnancy due to physiological and hormonal changes.

These high blood glucose levels increase the risk of congenital malformation, stillbirth, neonatal death, preterm delivery, macrosomia [oversized babies] and neonatal admission. So to discover an artificial pancreas can help maintain near-normal glucose levels in these women is very promising.”

Dr Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: “Although early days, this exciting area of research, funded by our donors, has huge potential to make pregnancy much safer for women with Type 1 diabetes, and their babies.

“It’s a fantastic example of how existing technologies, in this case, insulin pumps and CGMs, can be adapted and developed to benefit as many people with diabetes as possible. We now need to see an extension of this study, one which tests larger numbers of women, and then take it out of the hospital and in to the home setting.”

The findings are to be published in the journal Diabetes Care.

This article was published on Mon 31 January 2011

Image © Karen Roach -

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