By Mark Viney
A group of diabetics are cycling more than 2000 km in 13 days while having their blood glucose levels constantly monitored as part of a clinical trial looking at technological solutions to managing diabetes.
In the UK more than 2.5 million people have diabetes, about 10% with type 1 – which requires life-long insulin treatment – and 90% with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the single biggest cost to the UK National Health Service, costing some £10 billion annually.
The cyclists – now en route to Barcelona – have been fitted with a small patch on their stomach which has a sensor inserted into the fat just under their skin. The sensor constantly monitors the amount of glucose in their blood – as well as their heart rate – and then sends this data to the cyclist’s mobile phone. A phone app also lets the cyclists record what they’ve eaten and how much insulin they’ve taken. The bicycles are also wired up to record the cyclist’s pedal speed and ground speed. All of this information is then up-loaded to the cloud, where the cyclists can share their own health and performance data as they wish.
Insulin is a hormone – normally made by the pancreas – that controls how much sugar is in your blood. If you eat a sweet snack, your pancreas pumps insulin into your blood, to keep the blood sugar level correct. Type 1 diabetics don’t produce enough insulin, so they have to inject themselves with the hormone, as well as eat a balanced diet, to keep their blood sugar levels correct. Type 1 diabetics have to monitor their blood sugar level to know how much insulin to take, and what to eat.
Professor Mike Trenell of Newcastle University, one of the leaders of the study told the British Science Festival “this is a way to give participants the information they need in real-time using mobile technology”. Individual cyclists can choose with whom they wish to share their data – it might be other diabetics, or health care professionals, he said.
This work is the result of a partnership between mobile phone companies and health care researchers. Most of us carry mobiles phones with us, so using these to monitor our health may have a huge impact on our lives in the future. If we can follow the blood sugar level of cyclists in the French alps, then we can do the same in the Scottish Highlands, or the Welsh valleys, said Trenell, and this could help millions of people manage and live with diabetes.