A women, in Britain, last week became the first in the world to complete a vaginal natural birth using an artificial pancreas. The device was used to help reduce the risk, to both the mother and the unborn child, related to giving birth with diabetes.
Diabetes is a condition in which someone is unable, for one reason or another, to absorb enough glucose (a simple sugar which is crucial in providing energy to the body). With the inability to maintain and control their blood glucose levels, a diabetics levels can become too high or low. In the case of it becoming too high the body can create problems with sending hormones to organs. It is this chain of events which can cause complications during pregnancy and even during childbirth.
Modern day treatment to diabetes involves monitoring the blood glucose level and either using insulin to lower the blood glucose level or a sugary food to raise it should it fall too low. The devices used to monitor the blood glucose levels tend to use a small sample of blood to calculate the level and alert the diabetic should any action be required. With the requirement to be careful though out the day and even during sleep can cause discomfort and distractions as it can be dangerous for the levels to go too high or low.
In pregnancy, this risk is made worse by the fact that large amounts of energy are required during the childbirth. Normally maintained by a glucose infusion and doses of insulin (allowing the diabetics cells to absorb more glucose), the provision of which has to be continuously monitored. With the use of an artificial pancreas though it was possible to have a natural birth in contrast to the C-section that is normally recommended for diabetics to avoid the risks associated with childbirth and diabetes.
The device in question contains three parts, a sensor to detect the blood glucose level, an insulin pump, and a control algorithm. During times of high fluctuation, such as childbirth, the control algorithm allows for manual input into the situation further reducing risks associated with maintaining the blood glucose levels.
The hope is that eventually the system can be made fully autonomous and would be able to support diabetics not only during childbirth but in every day with minimal impact to their daily schedules. With future plans to automate the process it is also hoped that the device could be miniaturized and internalised, allowing the device to be present within the diabetics body, further reducing the outward changes required to monitor and respond to their blood sugar levels.
It always amazes me when technology enables us to do something we could normally only hope for, and in this case giving the opportunity to hundreds of people while also protecting them and their children. I only hope that this technology continues to develop and help others in the future.
Image courtesy of the Technical University of Denmark.