Home and community based care – Type 2 diabetes

New needle free sensing and insulin delivery technology to let Type-2 diabetes patients manage their care without the pain and hassle of finger pricks and injections.

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Vincent Uyttendaele, PhD student working on glycemic modeling and control at his desk.
  • This Spearhead team are developing new needle-free sensing and insulin delivery technology to let Type-2 diabetes patients manage their disease without the pain and hassle of finger pricks and injections.

  • The project takes a “systems solution” approach, offering more personalised treatment of Type-2 diabetes to work in conjunction with the new sensing and insulin delivery technology, which will work with smartphones and wearable technology.

  • The team’s work is already creating intellectual property and its innovations could have wider implications for treatment of other chronic diseases and healthcare in general.

Empowering patients to take on Type-2 diabetes

Providing healthcare to New Zealanders costs the taxpayer $16 billion in 2017, making it the second biggest area of expenditure after social security and welfare ($31 billion).

But within the government's health spending, there’s a significant and growing need to deliver better care to patients while reducing the cost of treating the most expensive chronic illnesses such as Type-2 diabetes.

Global estimates show treating Type 2 diabetes consumes at least 1.0% of gross domestic product (GDP) each year. While the disease is incurable, it can be managed to allow many of the nearly 200,000 New Zealanders who have been diagnosed with it, the opportunity to enjoy good health and quality of life. Starting treatment early can also delay the onset of the disease, saving significant long-term cost and improving health outcomes.

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A nurse, Georgia, demonstrates the blood glucose control system based on the same foundation models used in SfTI research in Christchurch hospital intensive care unit.

Next generation diabetes care - how does it work?

The team are working on three areas crucial to delivering better home-based Type-2 diabetes care: measurement, management and monitoring.

It starts with new technology that allows for non-invasive monitoring of glucose and insulin levels, which is crucial to a person’s ability to control the disease. They are developing needle-free light-based glucose sensors to allow quick and accurate blood glucose readings to be taken in the home.

As well as advanced sensor technologies to measure insulin levels, the team is also developing technology to deliver insulin to patients as part of their treatment. This has traditionally required regular injections, but researchers are instead developing a jet system that delivers a burst of insulin through the skin.

Better management introduces aspects of personalised medicine, using patient-specific data to create computer models that accurately suggest dosing regimens and treatment plans. These will allow better tailoring of drug or treatment dosing to the individual.

The team is also exploring how to make use of the devices as simple and low-cost as possible without sacrificing performance, by harnessing novel design, smartphones and wearable devices.

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PhD students Joel Balmer (left) and Lui Holder Pearson (right) simulating the use of the needle free injection (and eventually sensing) system in the low intensity clinical research area at University of Canterbury.

Technology to help patients care for themselves

This project is concentrated on devolving diabetes care to the patient, giving them more control of their disease with non-invasive, easy to use technology. It is likely to encourage them to more regularly and reliably measure their insulin levels and take the prescribed doses.

With its multiple themes of work, from engineering insulin pumps to writing algorithms to model an individual patient’s disease characteristics, the project is also creating a template for how improving treatment of other chronic diseases could be addressed.

In addition, the new technology and methodologies developed by the team, from medical sensors to informatics systems, could be applied more generally to healthcare problems and generate intellectual property that could be commercialised locally and in the health systems of other countries.

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Spearhead Leader, Distinguished Professor Geoff Chase – University of Canterbury, Dept of Mechanical Engineering

All images courtesy of University of Canterbury.

More information 

Meet a group of Post Doc and PhD students from the Home and Community Bases Care - Type 2 Diabetes Spearhead project  - who took part in the SfTI and KiwiNet commercialisation pre-accelerator program, Rewa. Read more about their experience in; The right tech, the right time, the right connection

Spearhead team member and PhD candidate, Lui Holder Pearson, joined a SfTI video storytelling workshop in May 2021 and produced this video on his work related to the Spearhead research project. Read more about Lui and other SfTI researcher's experience of the workshop in; Reality TV meets hi-tech science