insulin smart patch


The proposed insulin patch with microneedles.

Image by Dr Zhen Gu.

patch can automatically release insulin

into the bloodstream, by Mark Prigg,

there was an update as to progress from

Dr Gu. It reported on a 'Smart patch',

a thin square, no bigger than a penny,

covered with more than 100 tiny needles.

These 'microneedles' are packed with

microscopic storage units for insulin as

well as glucose-sensing enzymes. These

rapidly release their cargo of insuiln when

they sense blood sugar levels getting too

high. Each microneedle, about the size of

an eyelash, can detect increases in blood

sugar levels, then secrete doses of insulin

to bring glucose levels down within range.

A study published in the Proceedings

of the National Academy of Sciences

(PNAS), found that the new, painless

patch could lower blood glucose in a

mouse model of Type 1 diabetes for up

to nine hours. More pre-clinical tests

and subsequent clinical trials in humans

will be required before the patch can

be administered to patients, but the

approach shows great promise.

"We have designed a patch for

diabetes that works fast, is easy to use,

and is made from nontoxic, biocompatible

materials," said co-senior author Zhen Gu.

"The whole system can be personalized

to account for a diabetic's weight and

sensitivity to insulin, so we could make

the smart patch even smarter."

Beta cell copies

As reported in the Daily Mail article, Gu

and his colleagues chose to emulate the

body's natural insulin generators known

as beta cells. These versatile cells act both

as factories and warehouses, making and

storing insulin in tiny sacs called vesicles.

They also behave like alarm call centres,

sensing increases in blood sugar levels

and signaling the release of insulin into

the bloodstream.

"We constructed artificial vesicles

to perform these same functions by

using two materials that could easily

be found in nature," said Jiching Yu, a

PhD student in Gu's lab. The result was

millions of bubble-like structures, each

100 times smaller than the width of a

human hair. Into each of these vesicles,

the researchers inserted a core of solid

insulin and enzymes specially designed

to sense glucose.

In lab experiments, when blood sugar

levels increased, the excess glucose

crowded into the artificial vesicles. The

enzymes then converted the glucose

into gluconic acid, consuming oxygen

all the while. The resulting lack of oxygen

or 'hypoxia' made the hydrophobic NI

molecules turn hydrophilic, causing the

vesicles to rapidly fall apart and send

insulin into the bloodstream.

"The hard part of diabetes care is

not the insulin shots, or the blood sugar

checks, or the diet but the fact that you

have to do them all several times a day

every day for the rest of your life", says

John Buse, MD, PhD, co-senior author

of the PNAS paper, director of the UNC

Diabetes Care Center, and past president

of the American Diabetes Association.

"If we can get these patches to work in

people, it will be a game changer."

Because mice are less sensitive to

insulin than humans, the researchers think

that the blood sugar-stabilizing effects of

the patch could last even longer when

given to actual patients. Their eventual

goal, Gu said, is to develop a smart insulin

patch that patients would only have to

change every few days.



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