Insulin from the convenience of your phone 13 May 2021 Imagine if a person living with diabetes could determine the most appropriate amount of insulin they require at any given time, just by looking at their phone. Researchers may be closer to making this a reality, and leading the charge is Professor Bruce King, a Paediatric Endocrinologist at John Hunter Children’s Hospital. In 2015, King received a Type 1 Millennium Award from Diabetes Australia. The prestigious $150, 000 Award supports researchers undertaking long term projects. With the help of the Millennium Award, King was able to take a different approach to his research. “The Millennium Award came along at a time when I was starting a collaboration with systems control engineers at the University of Newcastle,” he said. “A lot of the research on diabetes has been very medically oriented. People who have expertise in other areas like systems control engineers can put a completely different light on how we should be managing diabetes and processes we could be implementing to change those things.” Control engineers use a combination of mathematics and engineering to ensure systems, machines or programs run efficiently and as predicted. Professor King was able to collaborate with systems control engineers to improve how insulin pumps worked. “We are looking at closed loop insulin pumps which are when there’s a continuous glucose sensor which talks to a computer and tells the insulin pump how much insulin to give based on a person’s blood sugar level, so it auto adjusts,” Professor King said. “At the time I started this, there were problems with the algorithms. They were working well in situations where people were asleep, but during the day when they were eating and exercising, researchers found they weren’t really coping.” Professor King believes they weren’t performing well because they weren’t designed to deal with the variability that comes with eating and moving around throughout the day. He began collaborating with internationally recognised engineers in the type of computer programming that was running insulin pumps at the time. Together, they designed a new algorithm that could cope with variations in food and exercise. “What we were finding was that everyone was coming back with a different result: what was working for one person wasn’t working anywhere near as well for the next person,” he said. “We changed our direction and developed a metabolic digital twin. We took a person with diabetes, and found out how much insulin they needed, what they ate and how their body responded, and we created a model specific to that individual. If we give a certain amount of insulin for a meal it will tell us what their blood glucose will do afterwards,” he said. Using the metabolic digital twin, with a single meal, researchers can test hundreds of different insulin doses, and timings of the doses to establish what the best dose of insulin would be for the person at that exact time. The ramifications for the everyday lives of people living with diabetes are significant. “Long term what we’d hope for is people would be able to have their own metabolic digital twin on their phone, but that’s a long way down the track,” Professor King said. “If we hadn’t got the grant from Diabetes Australia, we wouldn’t have been able to collaborate with the engineers and we would effectively be sitting around back in the dark ages. We wouldn’t be thinking about how we could make apps to help manage diabetes. We would be talking about a completely different scenario from where we are now which I think is quite an exciting place.” Your donation can make a difference in helping researchers like Professor Bruce King find a cure and improve treatment and technologies for people living with diabetes. You can donate here.