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Liverpool doctor’s life transformed by world-first test into ‘sci-fi like’ artificial pancreas

2 years ago

Liverpool doctor’s life transformed by world-first test into ‘sci-fi like’ artificial pancreas

A Liverpool doctor says her life has been transformed after being given an artificial pancreas to help manage her Type 1 diabetes.

Hollie Clements, 28, who works as a trainee surgeon at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital, is one of hundreds of adults and children with Type 1 diabetes who have taken part in the first nationwide study of its kind.

Liverpool University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (LUHFT) is one of 35 NHS diabetes centres across the country piloting the revolutionary hybrid closed loop (HCL) system – also known as an ‘artificial pancreas’.

So far 875 NHS patients, including Hollie, have been benefiting from this new technology via the pilot scheme.

When someone has Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas can’t make and release insulin like it should. This innovative technology works by enabling a fitted insulin pump to ‘talk’ to a patient’s continuous glucose monitor (CGM) – a small sensor on the body which monitors a person’s blood glucose and automatically adjusts the amount of insulin given through the pump.

It can eliminate finger prick tests and make blood sugar levels more stable, helping to prevent life-threatening ‘hypos’ (hypoglycaemic and hyperglycaemia attacks), which can lead to seizures, coma or even death.

Hollie, who is originally from Northern Ireland and now lives in Liverpool, has been living with Type 1 diabetes for 25 years, after being diagnosed aged three. She joined the trial in October 2021 and says it has reduced the challenges that were taking over her life in the operating theatre.

She said:

“I can’t honestly describe how life-changing it has been for me. Life as a surgeon is extremely busy, and you can be scrubbed in theatre for up to 12 hours at a time. When operating I can’t just stop and control my blood sugar levels. Even though I previously had a flash glucose monitor and pump, I would need to check my blood sugars by scanning the monitor and then manually adjust the insulin on the pump, by speeding it up or slowing it down. I’d let my sugars run high so I wouldn’t have a hypo at work. However, doing this put me at risk of long-term damage to my eyes and kidneys.

“Now I feel like a different person. Every five minutes, my blood sugar levels display on an app in my phone, and an algorithm calculates what it will be in 30 minutes time to adjust the insulin. It makes me feel safe, knowing that things are under control when I am unable to control them. At any point when operating I can just ask Siri what my glucose is, and it tells me – I don’t have to de-scrub. I really haven’t had an issue with my blood sugar control since I went on the trial. I couldn’t imagine going back to life how it was before, and I am so grateful to the NHS and the whole team at LUHFT who have been involved in this trial.”

As well as the physical benefits, using this system can also support the mental health of people with Type 1 diabetes, who otherwise must remain constantly vigilant to their blood sugar levels.

Hollie added:

“Living with Type 1 diabetes is all I’ve ever known. My older brother and I were both diagnosed at young ages, so we grew up with a lot of restrictions around what and when we could eat, activities we could do and so on.

“By the time I was in medical school I was injecting four to five times a day, which I found difficult to manage. Trying to find time in a busy day to stop and measure my blood sugar levels was limiting. Diabetes also impacts family life, our mother and father have lived through a lifetime of diabetes with us, supporting and guiding us, and even now they still worry about us. The HCL has reduced a lot of the self-management, but you still have to watch what you eat, monitor your levels and manage the equipment.”

Data collected from the pilot, which concludes in November, will be considered by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), to see if the device could be available more widely on the NHS.

Dr Philip Weston, Consultant Diabetologist and lead for insulin pump services at Liverpool University Hospitals, said:

“Managing Type 1 diabetes is a full-time job, so to also try and lead a normal life can feel impossible. With the HCL system, patients will be able to concentrate on the things that are more important to them, and for the first time in their lives, their diabetes can take second place. We hope that when the trial concludes, this technology is approved so that more patients can experience these life-changing benefits.”

Hollie added: “I am proud to have been part of the trial and I very much hope it’s funded for the long term and offered more widely to those who engage with their diabetes treatment. I really couldn’t go back.”

Find out more about Liverpool Hospitals here.


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