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Artificial pancreas gives real hope to diabet -

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PETER CAVE: Parents who have a child with juvenile diabetes are often forced into a delicate
balancing act to keep their child healthy. If a diabetic's blood sugar drops too low, they can fall
into a potentially fatal coma.

Blood sugars are managed with insulin, but getting the dosage right is very tricky and can involve
a significant amount of guesswork. Scientists at Cambridge University in Britain have devised an
artificial pancreas, which will make the process a whole lot easier.

Timothy McDonald reports.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: Every day thousands of Australian parents have to figure out exactly how much
insulin to give their child.

Paediatric diabetes educator Angie Middlehurst says there are lots of variables.

ANGIE MIDDLEHURST: It's a balancing act between insulin which lowers the blood glucose level,
exercise which lowers it and food which brings it up. We all have our meal and insulin squirts out
of our pancreas and we don't even know it's happening. These families have to work at it all the
time and they've got to, and with children, their activity is variable, they eat erratically and
they grow at different rates, so it's a real constant balancing act between all those things.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: She says all those variables make it easy to get wrong.

ANGIE MIDDLEHURST: According to the blood glucose level you give an amount of insulin, so it's very
much touch and go whether you get it right, and because of all those variable things that I've just
mentioned it's quite a difficult thing to do and if you're a perfectionist it's really hard because
you can't get everything just right all the time. It fluctuates.

And also, if the blood glucose level is fluctuating between low and high there can also be
behavioural problems and that becomes quite evident in children. So you don't know whether it's the
normal behaviour for the child or is it their swinging blood glucose levels, so that can add to the
difficulty as well.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: If blood sugar drops too low, a diabetic child can fall into a coma, and that's
particularly dangerous if it happens while they're asleep.

Dr Dorota Pawlak from Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation says hospitalisations for low blood
sugar are unfortunately quite common among children diagnosed with the illness.

DOROTA PAWLAK: There has been an Australian study in Western Australia which looked into how many
children are affected by it and you'd probably have at least 30 per cent of children who were
studied in Western Australia what have episodes of a low sugar within some stage in their life and
a few times they had to be hospitalised.

It varies from child to child, it really depends on how that particular child is managed and
unpredictable responses.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: But she says help could be on the way. Researchers from Cambridge University in
the UK have now come up with a mathematical algorithm to figure out exactly how much insulin a
child needs to keep their blood sugar in the safe range.

Dr Pawlak says the results are very encouraging.

DOROTA PAWLAK: In this particular study they were showing that there were less episodes in a mild
to what they call it mild-hypo but there was none they were actually dangerously low. None of those
children in that study went into the dangerously low state of sugar, of blood sugar which is what
parents want to hear.

TIMOTHY MCDONALD: It could still be a while before the so-called artificial pancreas becomes a
reality. Currently many diabetics use a glucose monitor and insulin pump, which is about the size
of a pager and can be easily attached to a belt.

Dr Pawlak says the next step is to combine the mathematical formula with the pump to make it
convenient.

DOROTA PAWLAK: However it is a very big focus of research worldwide to be able to test the
algorithm and then minimise it in such a way that it can be the size of a pager and can be worn on
their clothing or outside on their belt and then the person can move freely around with the
algorithm doing all the thinking for them.

PETER CAVE: Dr Dorota Pawlak from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation speaking to Timothy
McDonald.