Technology to monitor cyclists with diabetes on 2,000km trip

Sensors embedded in athletes’ abdominal fat help to gather date for researchers

Thirty six athletes, most with Type 1 diabetes, are among 60 riders taking part in the mHealth Grand Tour from Brussels to Barcelona. Thinkstock

Thirty six athletes, most with Type 1 diabetes, are among 60 riders taking part in the mHealth Grand Tour from Brussels to Barcelona. Thinkstock

 

Blood glucose monitors, bicycles, mobile phones and cloud technologies are being used by elite athletes on a punishing trip of over 2,000 km through the Alps to help people managing Type 1 diabetes.

Thirty six athletes, most with Type 1 diabetes, are among 60 riders taking part in the mHealth Grand Tour from Brussels to Barcelona, which pushed off on September 5th. Over 13 days the group will mount over 22,000 metres of climbs through the Alps and the Pyrennes.

Details of the Newcastle and Northumbria universities’ research surrounding the bike ride were revealed yesterday at the British Science Festival.

In the first ever trial of its type, exercise performance and physiological data will be streamed over mobile phone networks and the internet to scientists watching in real time in another country.

The study brings together three types of riders; elite athletes with Type 1 diabetes, recreational riders with Type 1 diabetes and athletes who do not have diabetes. The researchers want to learn lessons from the body function of elite athletes to help people managing Type 1 diabetes.

“This is a unique study which demonstrates the potential for technology to help people with Type 1 diabetes perform as athletes at the highest level,” said Prof Mike Trenell from Newcastle University, who is leading the trial.

“We will be gathering minute by minute data, day and night from the three groups allowing us to analyse how their bodies are coping,” said Prof Trenell.

The sensors, which are about 2cm long, are embedded in the athletes’ abdominal fat. Mobile phone apps are then used to record insulin dosing and diet. As they cycle, a heart rate monitor and a bike computer will record cycling statistics such as speed and all of the data will be pushed to a secure cloud to be downloaded by the scientists.

Type 1 diabetes is caused by the body not being able to produce insulin, the hormone which tells the body to absorb glucose.

Although exercise is beneficial for people with Type 1 diabetes, many people with the condition are deterred from exercise because of the risk of getting a low blood sugar level.

It is envisaged that technology could be used by people managing diabetes. “It empowers patients to choose who to share the data with, be it friends, family or their medical team,” said Prof Trenell.

Diabetes is “ the single biggest healthcare cost in most western countries” and a “huge social burden for individuals,” added Prof Trenell.

“This is really useful research,” said a spokeswoman for Diabetes Ireland. “Information has to be individualised rather than just giving patients a set of guidelines, “ she said.