insulin smart sponge


Enzyme nano capsules, smart sponges and insulin patches, what's

going on? We catch up on what might replace injections and infusion

sets to deliver insulin in the future.




n article entitled,


Microgels Integrated with

Enzyme Nanocapsules

for Closed-Loop Insulin

Delivery, was published by the American

Chemical Society in 2013. It was written

by Dr Zhen Gu, and others, and was

credited to the Department of Chemical

Engineering, Massachusetts Institute of

Technology (MIT).

This article referred back to another

study reproduced in Nanomagazine called

Injectable 'smart sponge' holds promise

for controlled drug delivery, featuring an

interview with Gu. That article reported

that researchers had developed a drug

delivery technique for diabetes treatment

in which a sponge-like material surrounds

an insulin core. The sponge expanded

and contracted in response to blood

sugar levels to release insulin as needed.

It was proposed that the technique could

also be used for targeted drug delivery to

cancer cells too.

Gu, lead author of a paper describing

the work (and an assistant professor in

the joint biomedical engineering program

at North Carolina State University and the

University of North Carolina at Chapel

Hill) explained the point of the research:

"We wanted to mimic the function of

healthy beta-cells, which produce insulin

and control its release in a healthy body,

but what we found also held promise for

smart drug delivery targeting cancer or

other diseases."

The matrix

At the time the researchers created

a spherical, sponge-like matrix out of

chitosan, a material found in shrimp and

crab shells. Scattered throughout this

matrix are smaller nanocapsules made

of a porous polymer that contain glucose

oxidase or catalase enzymes. The

sponge-like matrix surrounds a reservoir

that contains insulin. The entire matrix

sphere is approximately 250 micrometers

in diameter and can be injected into a


When a diabetic's blood sugar rises,

the glucose triggered a reaction that

caused the nanocapsules' enzymes

to release hydrogen ions. Those ions

bound to the molecular strands of the

chitosan sponge, giving them a positive

charge. The positively charged chitosan

strands then push away from each other,

creating larger gaps in the sponge's pores

that allow the insulin to escape into the

bloodstream. As the insulin is released,

the body's glucose levels begin to drop.

This causes the chitosan to lose its

positive charge, and the strands begin

to come back together. This shrinks the

size of the pores in the sponge, trapping

the remaining insulin. "We can also adjust

the size of the overall 'sponge' matrix as

needed, as small as 100 nanometers,"

Gu said, "and the chitosan itself can be

absorbed by the body, so there are no

long-term health effects."

In tests using diabetic laboratory

mice, the researchers found the sponge

matrix was effective at reducing blood

sugar for up to 48 hours. However,

the researchers published a separate

'smart system' for insulin delivery that

maintained normal blood sugar levels for

up to 10 days. "But we learned a lot from

the promising 'sponge' research and will

further optimize it. Meanwhile, we are

already exploring applications to combat

cancer," Gu said.

The end of injections?

As an update, and as reported in the Daily

Mail on 22 June 2015 in an article called,

The end of injections for diabetics? Smart


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