People with diabetes have to live their lives as slaves to an insulin pump, insulin injections, or a strict diet. By not having a properly functioning pancreas that produces the insulin needed to help the body absorb glucose, diabetes patients have no choice but to get used to the painful methods of testing and injecting. In the future, there may be a painless option.
Researchers and scientists at the University of North Carolina have created a transdermal patch that is painless to attach to the skin, controls blood sugar levels, and secretes insulin into the body when needed. By using this patch, people with type 1 diabetes would no longer need to be attached to an insulin pump or insulin injections.
This patch has not yet been tested on humans with diabetes, but it has been proven to control blood sugar levels in mice with type-1 diabetes for up to 10 hours with no monitoring or regulation of blood sugar. This insulin patch is an upgrade to the patch created last year by the same group of researchers at the University of North Carolina. The difference between the insulin patch created last year and this one deals with the delivery of insulin. The patch from last year only contained microneedles filled with synthetic insulin. This new patch now contains living beta cells, along with synthetic insulin, which is a much safer method of controlling blood sugar. Zhen Gu, lead researcher on the new type 1 diabetes option, comments on the new insulin patch.
“This study provides a potential solution for the tough problem of rejection, which has long plagued studies on pancreatic cell transplants for diabetes. 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.”
Why Are Beta Cells So Important To People With Diabetes?
Beta cells are located in the pancreas. These cells are what release the insulin into the body to help glucose absorption. In people with diabetes, these cells are either damaged or non-existent. With damaged or non-existent beta cells, an external source of insulin would be needed in order for the body function properly. On the new patch, the microneedles are lined with living beta cells that have been cultured. For those wondering how microneedles can be painless, the researchers state that the microneedles are the same gauge as an eyelash. They are painless due to their size.
The microneedles, when attached to the body, attach to the capillaries right below the skin. This allows the beta cells to have direct contact with a patient’s blood stream. The patch has what the researchers call “glucose-signal amplifiers,” which can rapidly respond to a rise in blood sugar within the body. These “glucose-signal amplifiers” rapidly communicate with the beta cells in the patch in order to regulate the blood sugar.
This patch will not be available any time soon to people with diabetes. More testing on animals needs to be done before clinical trials can be done on humans. The process for any type of new drug has to go through a long and intense process before the FDA will approve it for human use. On the bright side, this patch is showing great promise and is a treatment that will likely be available in the future. Living with diabetes is not easy. Another of the researchers, John Buse, comments on how hard it is for people with this disease.
“Managing diabetes is tough for patients because they have to think about it 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the rest of their lives. These smart insulin approaches are exciting because they hold the promise of giving patients some time off with regards to their diabetes self-care. It would not be a cure but a desperately needed vacation.”
Do you know anyone who has diabetes?
[Image Via AP Photo/Reed Saxon]