Patients with Type 1 diabetes need to follow an arduous treatment regime: taking insulin, monitoring their blood glucose levels, eating a balanced diet with limited sugar, and exercising regularly. This can be a particular challenge for newly-diagnosed children and their families. The EU-funded PAL (Personal Assistant for a healthy Lifestyle) project is developing a system that helps young people aged between 7 and 14 manage their diabetes.
The system consists of a robot and a set of mobile applications, including an online diary, quizzes and games, managed by health professionals who set their patients goals and monitor their progress. The aim is to use these digital tools to help diabetic children take responsibility for their health and motivate them to build up good habits before they reach adolescence.
The project’s researchers are working with children with diabetes, their parents, and healthcare professionals to establish how best to support them and also each family’s quality of life. The PAL robot, Charlie, has already been tested with young patients in Italy and the Netherlands. The robot is designed to engage with children in a fun way and encourage them to look forward to attending a diabetic clinic, as well as teach them about managing their condition. For example, it quizzes them about the sugar content of various foods. They can also test their knowledge by asking Charlie questions and pointing out when these are answered incorrectly, and share their experiences if they are feeling sad. Charlie also has a virtual avatar that children can personalise and interact with at home, using a tablet.
Researchers now aim to personalise the system even further and to create a whole network of mobile apps that will be able to help children manage all aspects of their diabetes and adapt to changing technologies. They are also planning to use the PAL system to help children to manage other illnesses.
PAL in brief
- Total Budget: EUR 4 515 460 (EU contribution: EUR 4 515 460)
- Duration: 03/2015-02/2019
- Countries involved: Netherlands (coordinator), Germany, Italy, United Kingdom
Key figures in the European Union
- Globally, it is estimated that about 80,000 children develop Type 1 diabetes each year.
- In 2010, approximately 9% of the EU’s adult population was diabetic.
- Between 2014 and 2017 the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme provided more than EUR 2 billion for research and innovation in health, demographic change and wellbeing.
In 2018, the European Commission adopted a new strategy enabling the digital transformation of health and care in the Digital Single Market, with the goal of harnessing the power of data to empower citizens and build a healthier society. It identifies three priorities: 1) enabling citizens to access their health data across the EU, 2) allowing researchers and other professionals to pool resources in the development of personalised medicine, which uses patients’ genetic and other personal data to diagnose and treat diseases, and 3) developing digital tools to help people look after their health.
To fund this, the Commission’s proposed new Digital Europe Programme also includes EUR 1.3 billion of funding for high capacity digital networks and innovative digital services in the EU, amongst them the digitisation of healthcare.