A WEARABLE "artificial pancreas" could dramatically reduce the risks of pregnancy in women with insulin-dependent diabetes, new research has shown.
In tests, the device was shown to help keep blood sugar levels under control and prevent the potentially fatal complications that can affect diabetic mothers to be.
Having a baby is not a decision taken lightly for many women with type one diabetes, an auto-immune disease which stops the pancreas producing insulin.
Babies of women with the condition have a five-fold increased risk of being stillborn and are three times more likely than average to die in their first months of life.
They also have double the normal risk of a major deformity. In addition, low blood glucose is a leading cause of death among pregnant mothers.
Two out of every three mothers who suffered from diabetes before getting pregnant have the type one disease, which affects around 300,000 people in the UK.
Type two diabetes, the most common form of the condition, is lifestyle-related and tends to affect older people past their reproductive age.
The artificial pancreas, a mobile phone-sized device worn on the hip, consists of a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) and an insulin pump.
The device automatically monitors blood glucose and pumps insulin into the circulation to maintain correct sugar levels.
Previous studies showed the system could help children with type 1 diabetes, but until now it had not been successfully tested on pregnant women.
Helen Murphy, from Cambridge University, who led the study funded by Diabetes UK, said: "For women with type one diabetes, self-management is particularly challenging during pregnancy due to physiological and hormonal changes.
"Previous studies indicate that pregnant women with the condition spend an average of 10 hours a day with glucose levels outside the recommended target.
"These high blood glucose levels increase the risk of congenital malformation, stillbirth, neonatal death, pre-term delivery, macrosomia (oversized babies) and neonatal admission.
"So to discover an artificial pancreas can help maintain near-normal glucose levels in these women is very promising."
Iain Frame, director of research at Diabetes UK, said: "Although early days, this exciting area of research, funded by our donors, has huge potential to make pregnancy much safer for women with type 1 diabetes, and their babies.
"It's a fantastic example of how existing technologies, in this case, insulin pumps and CGMs, can be adapted and developed to benefit as many people with diabetes as possible.
"We now need to see an extension of this study, one which tests larger numbers of women, and then take it out of the hospital and into the home setting."