'Smart' Insulin Patch Shows Promise for Diabetes

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This is the "smart insulin patch," developed by researchers in the joint UNC/NC State Biomedical Engineering Department.*
This is the "smart insulin patch," developed by researchers in the joint UNC/NC State Biomedical Engineering Department.*

Could a new “smart” insulin patch be a game-changer for patients with diabetes?

Researchers who studied the novel technology seem to think so, as the patch offers benefits that other current diabetes management strategies do not. For instance, the researchers noted that their smart insulin patch offers the unique benefit of potentially working more quickly than other closed loop systems, thereby preventing problems with hyperglycemia and hypoglycemia.

Transforming Diabetes Care?

Writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers at the University of North Carolina (UNC) and North Carolina State University reported that their smart insulin patch — a synthetic glucose-responsive device using a hypoxia trigger for regulation of insulin release — effectively regulated the blood glucose in a mouse model of chemically induced type 1 diabetes.1

The investigators believe their new patch may significantly alter how patients manage diabetes because it would allow, for the first time, for the replacement of daily monitoring and insulin shots.

“This device is not only painless and biocompatible, but more importantly it is smart, releasing insulin once blood sugar level is high and so you can avoid hypoglycemia,” said co-senior author Zhen Gu, PhD, a professor in the Joint UNC/NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering in Chapel Hill.

The whole system can be personalized to account for a patient's weight and sensitivity to insulin, he said.

Covered with more than 100 tiny needles that are each about the size of an eyelash, the patch is a thin square and smaller than a penny. The microneedles are packed with microscopic storage units for insulin and glucose-sensing enzymes that rapidly release their cargo when blood sugar levels get too high.

The current study found that the smart patch could lower blood glucose in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes for up to 9 hours, according to Gu.

“We will test on humans if large animal studies with mini-pigs are successful. It may take a couple of years,” Gu told Endocrinology Advisor.

Co-study investigator John Buse, MD, PhD, who is the director of the UNC Diabetes Care Center, said this patch marks a significant advance and he is optimistic about the next round of testing. 

“If all works as hoped, it would provide a safe and effective insulin delivery system that would not require monitoring or supervision. It would transform insulin-based diabetes care from a 24-hour, 7-days a week, 365-days a year for the rest of your life burden where one has to constantly adjust doses based on activity, diet and stressors to just slapping on a skin patch,” Buse told Endocrinology Advisor.

The patch also eliminates the potential for human error by creating closed loop systems that directly connect the devices that track blood sugar and administer insulin. Buse said in current closed loop systems, there are mechanical sensors and pumps and needle-tipped catheters that have to be stuck under the skin and replaced every few days. The patch would be a bit smarter than that and subsequently much simpler for the patient.

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