Patients with diabetes may no longer need to endure painful insulin injections with the help of a ‘smart insulin patch’ created by researchers at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University.
The patch is comprised of over a hundred microneedles, no larger than the size of an eyelash. These painless microneedles contain particles, called vesicles that release insulin in response to blood sugar (or glucose) levels. High blood glucose levels create a low oxygen environment which triggers the breakdown of these vesicles, releasing insulin, which helps in maintaining stable blood glucose levels.
The ‘smart insulin patch’ has proven successful on a mouse type 1 diabetes model, as recently described in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers found that the ‘smart insulin patch’ regulated blood glucose levels in these mice for up to nine hours. The patch has yet to undergo human testing, according to senior author Dr Zhen Gu, a professor at the joint Biomedical Engineering Department at UNC/NC, "It would take several years, most likely around 3 to 4 years, until potential clinical trials." Nevertheless, the "smart insulin patch" shows great potential as an alternative to insulin injections.
Diabetes is being diagnosed at an increasingly alarming rate: By 2035, the number of people with diabetes is estimated to be 592 million worldwide. Although the "smart insulin patch" is novel in its approach, it offers the delivery of insulin in a painless and controlled manner. If approved for human use, the "smart insulin patch" could improve the quality of life and health of patients with both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, by controlling their blood sugar levels more effectively and avoiding the potentially serious side-effect of blood sugar levels going too low.
Patients with diabetes are required to inject themselves with insulin several times a day to maintain stable blood sugar levels. The "smart insulin patch" offers a painless and safe alternative and injections may become unnecessary. Success of the insulin patch would also provide scientists with a mechanism of drug delivery potentially useful for treating numerous other diseases.