Research News

UB researchers aim to improve diabetes care with AI

Tarunraj Singh and his students look at computer screens in the lab.

Tarunraj Singh, right, and his students will work to develop artificial intelligence-driven technology to help people with Type 1 diabetes better monitor the condition. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published November 4, 2019

headshot of Tarunraj Singh.
“We’re developing new tools … that could greatly improve how people manage their Type 1 diabetes.”
Tarunraj Singh, professor
Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

The effect that food has on blood glucose levels in people with Type 1 diabetes is well established. Less clear, however, is the role that stress, time of day, activity levels and other factors play in regulating blood glucose.

To better understand these dynamics, UB researchers have launched a project that combines artificial intelligence (AI) with data gathered by continuous glucose monitoring tools.

Ultimately, the goal is to better understand the relationship between insulin and blood glucosen, empowering people with Type 1 diabetes to better manage the condition and improve their quality of life.

“We’re developing new tools — combining data collected from diabetes-monitoring tools with AI systems, as well as traditional time-series modeling approaches — that could greatly improve how people manage their Type 1 diabetes,” says the project’s leader, Tarunraj Singh, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.

The project is supported by a $200,000 grant from JDRF, a New York-based nonprofit that funds Type 1 diabetes research.

Additional principal investigators include Varun Chandola, assistant professor of computer science and engineering, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and Lucy Mastrandrea, associate professor of pediatrics in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at UB, and division chief of endocrinology with UBMD Pediatrics.

Until recently, people with diabetes had to perform a finger stick several times a day to obtain a blood sample to monitor their blood sugar.

Now, many people rely on continuous glucose monitors, which typically involve inserting a tiny sensor under the skin. The sensor measures glucose levels and sends that data wirelessly to a receiver. Patients can receive hundreds of updates throughout the day.

A nonprofit organization called Tidepool has been collecting such data from volunteers, de-identifying it, and making it available to researchers through the Tidepool Big Data Donation Project.

The UB research team will draw upon this data to validate the AI-driven technology it is working on.

The technology combines a machine learning model — machine learning is a subset of AI that involves getting computers to act intelligently without being explicitly programmed — with a problem-solving technique called first principles thinking.

This hybrid approach, Singh says, will allow the two components to inform each other. Ultimately, it can provide people with diabetes a more nuanced analysis of their blood sugar, especially as it relates to previously unaccounted for factors, such as stress, time of day and how active someone is.

It is possible that this technology could be integrated with wearable devices that track heart rate, sleep, steps and other measurements.