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History of Insulin Pumps

Type 1 Diabetes, Insulin Pumps and Intensive Therapy

Now a sophisticated piece of technology, the insulin pump as it now is was just an idea back in the 1960's. 

The first insulin pump created at that time was the size of a backpack, large and unwieldy.

The first portable pump was tried out at Guys Hospital in London in 1978.

Why Insulin Pumps and Intensive Therapy?Phil - the insulin pump

The idea of trying continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) came about as an option to introduce intensive insulin therapy to try and normalise glucose levels in diabetics.

These ideas were the result of research by endocrinologists, diabetes researchers and doctors.

Research Evidence

In the late 1970's, research showed evidence that near normal glycemic control could significantly reduce the risk of chronic complications.

At around the same time, the HbA1c measure was introduced to provide a long term measure of glycemic control.

A major trial, the DCCT (the Diabetes Control and Complications Trial), proved that there was not only a relationship between good glycemic control and a reduction in chronic complications of type 1 diabetes.

How Improvements in Control Reduced Complications

The reduction in chronic complications was far better than even the researchers and physicians had hoped for:-

  • 70% reduction in risk of retinopathy (damage to the nerves of the eye)
  • 50% reduction in nephropathy
  • 60% reduction in incidence of neuropathy

However, there was one unexpected side effect also, which was that subjects experienced more hypoglycemic events, many during the night.

Nevertheless, CSII was found to offer a more flexible lifestyle.

Other Benefits

Additional benefits of using an insulin pump include:-

  1. Pumps only use rapid acting insulin
  2. There is no accumulation of insulin
  3. Facility to program accurately for meals and overnight (and avoid night time hypos)

The conclusion of the DCCT study was that CSII should be a serious consideration for all type 1 diabetics.

Modern Insulin Pumps

Modern pumps offer a range of facilities including:-

  • bolus profiling - normal, square wave or dual
  • multiple basal rates over the day
  • calculates amount of insulin delivered daily
  • temporary basal rates
  • sets which sit just below the skin for swift delivery

Despite this research, individuals can often be concerned about trying out a pump for themselves.

Talking to other pump users (at your health care centre, hospital or in an online chat) can help to ease the concerns that you may have before seriously considering this option.

Further Information

Books & Info - there are several good books on insulin pump therapy and it's benefits

Jen's diabetes blog - the ups and downs of a mother and daughter and using the pump