A four-year old boy with diabetes has become the first person in the world to be fitted with an artificial pancreas.
Xavier Hames is one of millions living with Type 1 diabetes, which destroys the ability to produce insulin, and therefore regulate blood sugar levels.
It can cause a number of different health problems. Large amounts of glucose can damage blood vessels, nerves and organs.
But Xavier’s new insulin pump system, which was developed through nationwide clinical trials, mimics the pancreas’s ability to predict low glucose levels. It helps prevent attacks, which often occur at night when a person is asleep and can result in a coma, seizures and even death. The new device looks like an mp3 player and has been attached to his body using a number of tubes inserted under his skin.
It has a tiny computer inside it which is programmed to run a hypoglycaemia predictive algorithm. Working together with a sensor and plastic tube pushed under the skin, the computer monitors glucose levels and only delivers insulin to the body when it is needed.
Prof Tim Jones, of Princess Margaret Hospital for Children in Perth, Australia, said the pump was a major medical breakthrough. He said: “The majority of hypoglycemic attacks occur at night when a person is asleep and they might not be able to react or recognize the attack.
“This device can predict hypoglycaemia before it happens and stop insulin delivery before a predicted event.
“This coupled with the fact that the pump automatically resumes insulin [delivery] when glucose levels recover is a real medical breakthrough.”
Xavier’s mother, Naomi, said the pump reassured her that her son was safe when the family was asleep.
She used to give him insulin injections four times a day but now Xavier, who has had the disease since he was 22 months old, only needs one if he gets sick.
She said: “It was a bit of a surprise to be the first in the world, I’ve got to say, but yeah, [he’s] very, very lucky to have the opportunity.”
“I would hate now to go back to injections.
“If Xavier makes up his mind later on in life that he wants to do that it’s his choice but right now it’s our choice to let him have the freedom of the pump and being able to eat normally.
“He’s only four, you can’t stop a child wanting a bowl full of pasta, at a party you can’t stop a child wanting party food, so the pump allows a lot more freedom.
“Having the pump gives us the reassurance that Xavier is safe when we are all asleep at night, and during the day. It is also waterproof meaning that he can enjoy water sports and activities as much as his friends and family.”
The device was developed after more than five years of clinical trials at Princess Margaret Hospital for Children and other Australian hospitals.
It reportedly cost more than £5,400 and can be used by both children and adults.
It is unclear precisely when Xavier was fitted with the device, which will last about four years before it has to be replaced.
Type 1 diabetes can develop at any age, but usually appears before the age of 40, particularly in childhood. Around 10% of all diabetes patients have Type 1, but it’s the most common type of childhood diabetes.
In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas doesn’t produce any insulin – the hormone that regulates blood glucose levels.
If the amount of glucose in the blood is too high, it can, over time, seriously damage the body’s organs.
Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune condition, where the immune system mistakes the cells in the pancreas as harmful and attacks them.
Type 1 diabetes cannot be cured. But treatment aims to keep blood glucose levels as normal as possible and control symptoms, to prevent health problems developing later in life.