Jewels Doskicz, RN, is a freelance writer, patient advocate, health coach, and long-distance cyclist. She and her daughter both live healthfully with type 1 diabetes.
Diabetes alert dogs are capable of sensing impending blood sugar changes before our glucometers can; now a mathematical model has caught up with the canines.
Researchers at Penn State University have created a mathematical model that predicts changes in blood glucose levels up to thirty minutes in advance—and with stunning 90 percent accuracy. That could give people with type 1 diabetes precious time to prevent a low blood sugar episode before it’s too late.
Here's where this data is headed: straight into an algorithm for an artificial pancreas, serving to tighten up safety measures so that one day we can rely more fully on technological advances to help us keep our blood sugar levels in a healthy range without constant human intervention.
Automatically delivering insulin when needed might sound simple, but it’s incredibly complex. That’s because everyone’s body is different, and we all vary in how we respond to our food, exercise, insulin, and other factors. It’s hard for an algorithm to compensate for all of that, but the researchers’ mathematical model is a giant leap forward toward doing so. The model was successfully tested in real people with type 1 diabetes as well as computer-generated virtual patients.
So how does the model’s 90 percent accuracy compare with those specially trained diabetes alert dogs? Trainer Meg Flynn of Power Paws in Scottsdale, Arizona tells me that Power Paws puppies are 80 percent accurate and can predict blood sugar changes 15 to 20 minutes before they happen—significantly less time than the mathematical model’s 30-minute maximum.
I personally don't have a diabetes alert dog, but I do have a Dexcom continuous glucose monitor (CGM), and they have predictive value as well. Think about this scenario: If you check your blood sugar on a glucometer you may get the number 98 and think you're ready to tuck yourself into bed, right? In contrast, if you see the same result on a CGM with slanted or straight arrows pointing downward, you'll probably be heading to the kitchen to snack on a few needed carbs instead.
Here's a curve ball from Professor Peter Molenaar in Penn State News: "Glucose levels under the skin [where CGMs take their measurements] trail blood glucose levels from anywhere between eight and 15 minutes." Perhaps this is why we don't believe our CGM on occasion—it's reading 100 but you feel like you're 60.
Whether we get our warning from dogs or devices, knowing blood sugar levels are about to change gives a person with diabetes time to react—and that, in turn, can give us greater confidence and peace of mind.