The first clinical trial comparing three alternative treatments for type 1 diabetes confirms that the external artificial pancreas improves glucose control and reduces the risk of hypoglycemia compared to conventional diabetes treatment. The study was conducted in Montréal by researchers at the IRCM (Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal) and the University of Montreal, led by endocrinologist Dr. Rémi Rabasa-Lhoret.

The results, published in The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, could have a significant impact on the treatment of type 1 diabetes, the researchers said.

An emerging technology to treat type 1 diabetes, the external artificial pancreas is an automated system that simulates the normal pancreas by continuously adapting insulin delivery based on changes in glucose levels. There are two kinds of the artificial pancrease: the single-hormone artificial pancreas that delivers insulin alone and the dual-hormone artificial pancreas that delivers both insulin and glucagon.

“Our study confirms that both artificial pancreas systems improve glucose control and reduce the risk of hypoglycemia compared to conventional pump therapy,” said engineer Ahmad Haidar, first author of the study and postdoctoral fellow in Rabasa-Lhoret’s research unit at the IRCM. "In addition, we found that the dual-hormone artificial pancreas provides additional reduction in hypoglycemia compared to the single-hormone system."

“Given that low blood glucose remains very frequent during the night, the fear of severe nocturnal hypoglycemia is a major source or stress and anxiety, especially for parents with young diabetic children,” adds Dr. Laurent Legault, paediatric endocrinologist at the Montreal Children’s Hospital, and co-author of the study. “The artificial pancreas has the potential to substantially improve the management of diabetes and the quality of life for patients and their families.”

IRCM researchers are pursuing clinical trials on the artificial pancreas to test the system for longer periods and with larger patient cohorts. The technology should be available commercially within the next five to seven years, with early generations focusing on overnight glucose control.