Diabetics will soon have transformed lives through an artificial pancreas which is supposed to monitor blood sugar levels continuously as well as provides insulin automatically. This could free children with diabetes from their reliance on blood tests and injections.
Around 350,000 Britons have been diagnosed with type 1 diabetes that usually raises its head in childhood or young adulthood.
Finger-prick method was the only available method for sufferers to monitor their blood sugar levels so that they can inject insulin accordingly.
The latest device uses a computer to monitor the patient's blood sugar levels and administer insulin when levels rise too high.
This device is expected to be useful through the delivery of the correct amount of insulin as soon as it is needed so that long-term complications such as blindness, loss of sensation and ulceration of the feet, which can lead to amputation is prevented.
Clinical trials are expected to begin in January.
Scientists at Cambridge University, led by Roman Hovorka at the Department of Paediatrics, will use monitors that measure blood glucose. These in turn will be connected wirelessly to a computer that controls an insulin pump worn on the patient's belt. The key is the computer program, which works out the precise dose of insulin needed.
Type 1 diabetes is characterized by the islet cells of the pancreas killed by the immune system, and the pancreas cannot produce insulin, which is needed to control blood-sugar levels.
Although this condition can be roughly corrected by regular insulin injections throughout the day, night-time control can be difficult.
David Dunger, a member of the Cambridge team, said: "Getting the computer algorithm right will be the big job. There is a high risk of glucose levels going low at night. This really frightens parents and patients."
The project has received a £500,000 grant from the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Karen Addington, its chief executive, said: "Achieving good blood-glucose control dramatically lowers the risk of serious complications, by as much as 75 pera cent for some problems."
During the first stage of the trial, 12 children aged between 5 and 18 will be fitted with a glucose monitor. Once they are used to it they will spend a night in hospital with the insulin pump fitted.
During night use, the computer need not be portable However a hand-held computer might mean that the system could also be used to control glucose levels during the day.