Pioneering technique promises type 1 diabetes breakthrough

New University of Sydney research is taking a completely novel approach to insulin dosage, with the potential to make it easier for people with type 1 diabetes to adjust their insulin levels after a fatty meal.

To mark World Diabetes Day, the research was today announced as recipient of a competitive $60,000 grant from the ADEA Diabetes Research Foundation.

Led by Dr Kirstine Bell from the University’s Charles Perkins Centre, the cutting-edge project will use an innovative bioengineering approach developed in conjunction with Harvard Medical School. Dr Bell’s team have successfully modelled blood glucose responses to meals of varying fat content and can accurately predict how much insulin is required to keep glucose levels within a tight optimal range.

The findings hold the promise of empowering people with type 1 diabetes with more accurate information on how to moderate insulin doses and reduce the risk of dangerous high and low blood glucose levels.

“Currently, mealtime insulin doses are calculated based solely on the amount of carbohydrate in the meal, despite recent studies showing dietary fat can increase insulin requirements by more than 40 percent,” said Dr Kirstine Bell, who is also a dietitian and credentialed diabetes educator.

“Traditionally whenever someone reports high blood glucose levels after a meal, it was assumed this was because they did something wrong: they didn’t calculate their carbs right or estimate their portion size correctly.

“Now we’re learning that we didn’t have all the information and we need to go back to the drawing board to learn more about what’s really happening in the body to create better solutions.

“Once we have these results, we will be able to work with clinicians and people with type 1 diabetes to find the best way to integrate this evidence into practical solutions, such as apps or as part of insulin pumps to deliver the most effective insulin dose in the most convenient way.”

Results from this study will help give people with type 1 diabetes, like Daniel Simon, the answers they need to improve their blood glucose levels and enjoy their lives.

“I try to eat pretty healthy most of the time, but it’s frustrating trying to manage my blood sugar levels whenever I eat takeaway,” said Mr Simon.

“I count carbs and use an insulin pump but my blood sugar levels still end up really high for at least eight hours afterwards. It’s great that this research could lead to easier and more reliable ways to keep my blood sugars level under control.”

The research team is comprised of world-leading diabetes experts including Professor Jennie Brand-Miller from the University of Sydney’s Charles Perkins Centre and Faculty of Science; Professor Stephen Twigg from Sydney Medical School and the Charles Perkins Centre; and Associate Professor Garry Steil from Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School.

“This research promises a novel, more accurate way to manage blood glucose related to meals," said Professor Stephen Twigg.

"We want to address how people with diabetes can better match their insulin to their diet, thus minimising blood glucose excursions after meals and reducing the risk of diabetes complications.”

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