Under-skin sensor to monitor blood glucose of Type 1 diabetics

31 January 2009

An under-the-skin sensor is to be used to monitor people with diabetes' glucose levels in a pioneering new study by Southampton clinicians, funded by health charity Diabetes UK.

Diabetes experts based at Southampton General Hospital will fit the tiny devices to participants' stomachs and use them in conjunction with watch-like armbands, which will check participants' physical activity.

The trial will be the first of its kind in the UK, studying how much of an impact exercise has on blood glucose levels while also taking diet and insulin intake into account.

Led by Professor Christopher Byrne and Dr Andrew Chipperfield, it is hoped the study will shed new light on the management of Type 1 diabetes. Thirty volunteers aged between 18 and 75 will be supplied with a glucose sensor and armband.

The glucose sensor consists of a tiny electrode, which is inserted under the skin and can take nearly 300 readings a day. This connects to a transmitter which is attached to the skin with an adhesive patch.

Weighing less than a quarter of an ounce, the waterproof electrode and transmitter can be worn by patients for up to two weeks at a time, with the inserted sensor replaced every three days.

Meanwhile the physical activity armband will be worn for two blocks of two weeks during the 12-month study to record continuous data, which can then be downloaded electronically. Volunteers will wear the bands on their right upper arm and can sleep with them in place.

Professor Byrne, head of endocrinology and metabolism at Southampton University Hospitals NHS Trust, said: "At the moment, it is uncertain how day-to-day variation in physical activity influences blood glucose in people with Type 1 diabetes. But thanks to the introduction of sophisticated, light, user-friendly monitoring devices, such as the two we are trialling, we will gauge a better understanding of the link between physical activity and glucose control in diabetes."

Professor Byrne added: "People with diabetes need help to understand the powerful influence of physical activity and exercise on glucose control and how it can play an essential part in avoiding the complications diabetes can bring."

Dr Victoria King, Research Manager at leading health charity Diabetes UK, said: “Diabetes UK is really pleased to be funding this research as currently the relationship between physical activity, energy expenditure and blood glucose levels in people with Type 1 diabetes is not fully understood.

“Physical activity is an essential part of managing Type 1 diabetes and protecting against the serious complications of the condition such as heart disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and amputation. We hope that this study will equip people with Type 1 diabetes with the information they need to make pragmatic decisions about physical activity and how it is likely to affect their blood glucose control. This in turn will help to protect both their short- and long-term health.”

Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body produces no insulin at all. It usually develops before the age of 40 and often in the teenage years.

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