Scientists create smart insulin patch to control diabetes

17 March 2016

Scientists have devised a synthetic painless patch filled with natural insulin-producing cells capable of controlling blood sugar levels on demand.

Researchers had for decades tried to mimic the the function of beta cells, the tiny insulin-producing entities that failed to work properly in patients with diabetes.

Insulin injections are only imperfect substitutes besides being painful.

Normal beta cell transplants came with the risk of rejection or side effects from immunosuppressive therapies, according to researchers.

Now, scientists from University of North Carolina (UNC) in the US had come up another option- a synthetic patch filled with natural beta cells that could release doses of insulin to control blood sugar levels on demand without the risk of inducing hypoglycemia.

The proof-of-concept built on an innovative technology, the "smart insulin patch."

Both patches comprise thin polymeric squares about the size of a quarter and covered in tiny needles, much like a miniature bed of nails. However, while the former approach filled these needles with manmade bubbles of insulin, this new "smart cell patch" integrated the needles with live beta cells.

Tests of this painless patch in small animal models of type-1 diabetes had shown that it could quickly respond to skyrocketing blood sugar levels and significantly lower them for 10 hours at a time.

"This study provides a potential solution for the tough problem of rejection, which has long plagued studies on pancreatic cell transplants for diabetes," said Zhen Gu from UNC. "Plus it demonstrates that we can build a bridge between the physiological signals within the body and these therapeutic cells outside the body to keep glucose levels under control," said Gu.

Beta cells found in pancreas, act as the body's natural insulin-producing factories, and in healthy people, they produce, store, and release the hormone insulin to help process sugar that is built up in the bloodstream after a meal.

However, in people with diabetes, these cells are either damaged or unable to produce enough insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control.

Over 387 million people suffer from diabetes worldwide and that number was expected to grow to 500 million by the year 2030.

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