Field Trip to the IRCM!!!

Last Wednesday we took our trip to the Institut de Recherche Clinique de Montréal (IRCM). We were received by Ahmad Haidar, a PhD students developing an algorithm to regulate the dispense of insulin to diabetic patients. The study wants to develop a closed loop control to connect and coordinate commercially available sensing and pumping devices. This would essentially replace the need for diabetics to administer their own insulin doses, and reduce the dangers that come with it.Insulin is a hormone involved in the metabolism of glucose and is secreted by cells of the pancreas, the beta cells. We have learned that persons who deal with diabetes of type I suffer from the loss of these beta cells – probably due to an autoimmune destruction. Without any beta cells to produce the necessary Insuling, the patients rely on external injections of Insulin. The current injection method makes it very hard for the patients to maintain their level of blood glucose in the normal region. Instead, they end up spending a significant amount of time in states of hypo- or hyperglycemia (too low or too high blood sugar). Long term hyperglycemia can result in long term complications, hypoglycemia in death over the course of a few hours.

Ahmad works with both real patients in live studies, as well as with “e-cloned” patients, existing as a mathematical simulation of live patients in his computer. To tune their algorithm offline, Ahmad and his team have developed models of their patients, models that rely on somewhere around 20 parameters (The model provided values for insulin absorption, plasma insulin kinetics, glucose kinetics and meal absorption). To fit their model on the recorded data of a patient, they use a Bayesian approach in which prior information about the parameter values’ probabilistic distribution is used along with iterative error reduction methods to find a satisfying solution.

Besides showing us how a mathematical formulation of a problem can be raison d’être and the driving force of a clinical study, Ahmad was kind enough to present us his equipment (notably a body scanner similar to what is found in Star Trek, to determine the mass and tissues distribution of a patient), and to describe us the deal with clinical research. To summarize, the visit was instructive, entertaining, and will remind us that the world pictured in Star Trek isn’t so far after all. We wish to thank all the participants, Ahmad, and his team for making this excursion a very pleasant experience.

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