Smart Insulin Patch Could Revolutionize Diabetes Treatments


A smart insulin device under development could revolutionize how glucose levels are monitored in diabetes patients and deliver insulin doses when necessary.

Researchers from University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), the University of North Carolina and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) are working on an adhesive patch, about the size of a quarter, and are planning to take their device and move it into human studies soon. The scientists have published their preclinical research conducted on mice and pugs in Nature Biomedical Engineering. A statement from UNC notes that the research team is seeking approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to advance the study into human trials.

Zhen Gu, a professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, said in a statement that the goal of the project, which began in 2015, is to “enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes.” The patch is intended to remove the need for diabetes patients to constantly check their blood sugar levels and then take insulin when needed. Gu said the patch “mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas” but remains easy for patients to use.

The experimental patch monitors glucose levels and has doses of insulin pre-loaded in micro-needles. The microneedles are made with a glucose-sensing polymer that's encapsulated with insulin. Each microneedle penetrates about a half millimeter below the skin, which is sufficient to deliver insulin into the body. When applied, the microneedles penetrate under the skin and can sense blood sugar levels. As the researchers describe, when glucose levels reach a certain threshold, the insulin is released. When the blood sugar levels return to normal, the insulin delivery slows. The researchers said this is designed to ensure there is not an overdose of insulin, which can lead to hypoglycemia, seizures, coma or even death.

In the experiments, one quarter-sized patch successfully controlled glucose levels in pigs with type I diabetes for about 20 hours, the researchers said. The pigs weighed about 55 pounds on average.

John Buse, director of the UNC Diabetes Center, said having an insulin-delivery device in a “smart and convenient manger” has always been a dream.

“This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes care,” Buse said in a statement.

If the FDA accepts the application to begin testing the patch in humans, the research team said trials could begin within the next few years. The team believes that the smart microneedle patch could be used beyond diabetes. The researchers believe it could be adapted with different drugs to manage other medical conditions as well.

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