Brain and Body

Scientists Create Painless “Smart Cell Patch” in Fight Against Diabetes

March 15, 2016 | Johannes Van Zijl

Insulin patch with microneedles
Photo credit: Courtesy of Zhen Gu, PhD

The new smart patch could treat millions of people suffering from type-1 and advanced type-2 diabetes!

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University have developed a synthetic patch that regulate insulin levels in individuals living with diabetes.

The patch, which contains natural pancreatic beta cells, can secrete doses of insulin as required to control blood sugar or “glucose” levels.

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As reported last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the new concept was developed from an earlier innovation, the “smart insulin patch.” Both concepts are patches of thin polymeric squares containing micro needless. Whereas the earlier prototype used micro needles filled with manmade bubbles of insulin, the new smart cell patch incorporates the micro needles with live beta cells that have the ability to secrete insulin.

Insulin patch with microneedles

Beta cells are specialized cells normally located in an area of the pancreas known as the islets of Langerhans. They are unique insulin-producing cells that store the hormone and secrete it directly into the bloodstream when increased blood sugar is detected. People suffering from diabetes type-1 normally lack these beta cells since birth and therefore are unable to produce insulin. Conversely, Individuals with type-2 diabetes are able to produce insulin, but their cells do not respond normally to the hormone by removing excess sugar from the bloodstream.

Preliminary testing of the new “Smart Cell Patch” has already shown positive results in animal models of type-1 diabetes. The patch demonstrated a quick response to increases in blood sugar levels, with a remarkable ability to lower blood sugar levels for up to 10 hours at a time. The results were published online in Advanced Materials.

In a media release, senior Author of the publication Zhen Gu, PhD stated, “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,” Gu went on to say.

With more than 400 million people worldwide suffering from diabetes, the traditional insulin injection might be a thing of the past very soon!

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