A team of US researchers have developed a system to treat Type I diabetes automatically and effortlessly without the need for needles and finger pricks, using a smartphone.

Combined with a wearable insulin pump and a small sensor, the researchers say any smartphone can become a “digital pancreas,” which can monitor blood sugar levels and deliver insulin when needed, reported Tech Times.

The digital pancreas was developed by a team of researchers from the University of Virginia’s School of Medicine (UVA) and Harvard’s John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS).

The small blood sugar sensor can be worn on the abdomen, arm or leg. The wireless sensor monitors the blood sugar level every five minutes and sends a report to an accompanying smartphone app.

The app’s algorithm analyses the data and wirelessly controls a wearable insulin pump, which can be hooked to a belt or other piece of clothing. The pump has a very fine needle that delivers insulin into the blood stream.

“The idea is that this can lead to an improved quality of life for individuals with this disease — not a solution to diabetes, but a means to really extend the quality of their healthful living,” said co-researcher and Dean at SEAS, Francis Doyle III.

Lead Researcher and Director of the Center for Diabetes Technology at UVA, Boris Kovatchev’s original algorithm is similar with traditional diabetes management strategies in that it aims to maintain the blood glucose level at a precise target number. Using the algorithm in an automatic system means the app needs to change levels many times depending on the data sent by the sensor.

To address this potential problem, Doyle and his team improved Kovatchev’s algorithm so that instead of targeting specific numbers, the new algorithm targets specific “zones” for healthy blood sugar levels.

With a $12.6 million grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), researchers will test the system’s efficacy and safety in 240 patients for six months.  The second phase of the trial will test 180 patients who participated in the first study for an additional six months to test the algorithm developed by Doyle.

The system will be compared with a standard insulin pump to test on two key measures: how well blood-sugar levels are controlled and whether the risk of hypoglycaemia is reduced, reported the Harvard Gazette.

Trials are expected to begin early this year in several clinics around the US and Europe.

For more information contact news@eHealthNews.co.za, like us on Facebook or tweet us @eHealthNewsZA.