Mobile app manages diabetes

A new personal health monitoring system promises improved management of diabetes
By Dillan Yogendra
10:16 AM

Real-time blood sugar measurements are recorded by a sensor and mobile phone app using cloud internet technology.

Diabetes is on the rise. In the UK alone, one in 10 people in hospital have diabetes, with a similar proportion of deaths attributable to the disease. It is a chronic disease with no cure, but it can be managed. Currently about 10% of the NHS budget is spent on direct treatment of diabetes, with a further large chunk taken up tackling serious complications that can include kidney failure, nerve damage, blindness, and amputations.

In contrast to previous post hoc data methods, researchers from the Universities of Newcastle and Northumbria in the UK have announced a new approach to diabetes management, based around a state of the art personal health monitoring system that uses medical sensors, mobile phones, and cloud computing.

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The technology is being trialled in a sporting event across Europe this week. A small discrete personal blood sugar sensor is worn by each participant, linked wirelessly to the wearer's mobile phone.

Instant blood sugar monitoring could also aid marathon runners and long-distance cyclists. Around 100 cyclists trialling the technology are currently taking part in a stage race from Brussels to Barcelona, and will complete a 2100 km course with a cumulative climb of 22 000 m. All the cyclists are wearing a blood sugar monitor that works as a small wire, picking up chemical changes to record glucose in the body fluid when stuck just under the wearer's skin. The cost is around £40 and can be worn for up to 10 days, sending data wirelessly to their mobile phone.

Most of the cyclists taking part have diabetes. Over the 13 days of the event they will wear continuous glucose monitors. The data collected by their mobile phones is being downloaded to a cloud data repository and can be analyzed in real time by the scientific team.

People with Type 1 diabetes often avoid strenuous exercise for fear of experiencing very low blood sugar and black outs. The technology described offers a route to avoiding such hypoglycemic episodes with real-time warnings.

Professor Mike Trenell at Newcastle University, who is leading the trial, said: "It is really about demonstrating how much things most of us carry in our everyday lives, mobile phones, hold the potential to help living with diabetes.

"We can enable patients to make real-time context-based decisions to improve their diabetes control. If we can get people to walk 45 minutes extra every day we get an equivalent cost saving of £800 per year."

For average patients, it is anticipated that this type of continuous real-time monitoring could, in future, provide relatively cheap route for diabetes patients to monitor their blood sugar levels and manage their health.

Used by members of the general population, or those at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, the monitoring system could offer an early warning health check, and might be used to help demonstrate the health benefits of modifying life style, providing instant positive feedback.

For the road-cycling athletes the data are being combined with heart rates, cycling cadence, speed and climb rates in a linked dataset. These sorts of personal performance datasets are becoming increasingly popular among cyclists, runners, and other recreational athletes, with a wide-range of web-based applications available for recording one's achievements (or otherwise). For more serious professional endurance athletes it is easy to see how monitoring blood sugar levels during activities such as marathons or events such as the Tour de France could be useful.


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