Edinburgh man with diabetes hails ‘life-changing’ DIY artificial pancreas

Edinburgh IT manager Alasdair McLay has been using the DIY artificial pancreas for around three years after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 14.
Edinburgh IT manager Alasdair McLay has been using the DIY artificial pancreas for around three years after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes aged 14.
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A patient who has lived with type 1 diabetes for more than 30 years has told how an innovative DIY artificial pancreas system has changed his life.

Alasdair McLay told Scotland on Sunday how the hybrid technology known as “closed loop” can make up to 288 decision per day for diabetics and helps regulate insulin levels.

Speaking ahead of a conference of healthcare experts and industry specialists in Edinburgh aimed at helping people with diabetes, McLay explained how several components are required to deliver effective artificial pancreas technologies. These include the ability to tell an insulin pump to deliver insulin, to read data from a pump, to take current blood sugar levels from a continuous glucose monitoring (CGM) sensor and a storage cloud to keep all historic data.

The DIY artificial pancreas uses continuous glucose monitoring, insulin pumps and smartphone technology to run algorithms shared freely with the intent of improving quality of life and glycaemic control.

McLay said that managing type 1 diabetes within National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) guidelines is a “fulll-time job”. There are many factors that affect it including age, food, exercise, weight, alcohol and stress levels.

McLay, an IT manager from Edinburgh, used the analogy of piloting an aircraft with no automatic mechanism to control altitude to explain the challenge those living with type 1 diabetes face on a daily basis. He said: “Type 1 diabetes is really hard to manage, you’re constantly balancing insulin with food and exercise – there are actually up to 42 different items that can affect your sugar level.

“To manage it really well takes a lot of effort and a lot of understanding and less than 7 per cent of the type 1 diabetics in the UK manage to attain the level that NICE suggest is the right amount for them to reach.

“Being diabetic means having to hand-fly the aircraft to make sure you don’t fly into the ground or fly too high – short term not a problem, but long term leading to complications. Now do that 24/7/365 – the diabetes aircraft never lands.

“Since becoming diagnosed as a type 1 diabetic in 1988, the cure has consistently been ten years away. However, while I have been waiting for a cure, the level of technology to support my diabetes has been changing. We are now getting close to something akin to an autopilot to help fly the aircraft for large chunks of the day.”

McLay, who was diagnosed when he was 14, has been using the DIY artificial pancreas for three years He added: “It’s made a huge difference and has absolutely changed my life.”

The NHS currently provide flash glucose monitors on prescription. The Freestyle Libre, with the addition of a small device for £150, can be turned into a CGM, meaning a closed loop is available on the NHS for around £250 if a phone needs to be bought.