A new development in insulin technology could have a huge impact on diabetes treatment in the near future.
A team of researchers has developed a new “smart patch”, lined with painless microneedles loaded with insulin, in an effort to replace the technique of delivering insulin to type 1 diabetics through uncomfortable and sometimes painful injections.
Currently, manual injections like this are how millions of people with type 1 diabetes around the world regulate their hormone levels.
But now a four-centimeter-long patch, lined with over 100 eyelash-sized needles, could not only deliver the same amount of insulin as a regular-sized needle but also be tailored to contain glucose-sensing enzymes, which could identify when a patient’s blood sugar levels are elevated and release insulin into the blood stream accordingly.
A trial of the patch, performed using mouse models, was published recently in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. When tested on mice, the patch was able to successfuly regulate insulin levels for up to nine hours(1).
The study was “the first demonstration, to our knowledge, of a synthetic glucose-responsive device using a hypoxia trigger for regulation of insulin release. The faster responsiveness of this approach holds promise in avoiding hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia if translated for human therapy.”
How It Works
The patch was built to mimic our body’s own insulin generators – also known as beta cells. Beta cells produce and store insulin in structures known as vesicles.
“We constructed artificial vesicles to perform these same functions by using two materials that could be easily found in nature,” researchers explained.
These materials were combined into a specific type of molecule which is hydrophilic on one end and hydrophobic on the other. When combined in large numbers, these molecules assemble into a vesicle structure, which can be loaded with insulin and glucose-sensing enzymes.
Solutions To Potential Problems
The device’s sensitivity to blood glucose levels make it not only more convenient for users than the injection system, but safer as well – “Injecting the wrong amount of medication can lead to significant complications like blindness and limb amputations, or even more disastrous consequences such as diabetic comas and death,” one member of the research team pointed out in a recent press release(2).
Not only is the patch fast-acting and easy to use, it’s also made from nontoxic, biocompatible materials, making it more environmentally sustainable than the injection system as well.
But that’s not all – the patch can be customized as well: “The whole system can be personalized to account for a diabetic’s weight and sensitivity to insulin,” another researcher on the project pointed out. “So we could make the smart patch even smarter.”