Managing diabetes could soon become a lot easier as researchers have developed the first “smart insulin patch” that can detect increases in blood sugar levels and secrete doses of insulin into the bloodstream whenever required.
The patch – a thin square no bigger than a penny – is covered with more than 100 tiny needles, each about the size of an eyelash.
These “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.
“We have designed a patch for diabetes that works fast, is easy to use and made from non-toxic, biocompatible materials,” said co-senior author Zhen Gu from University of North Carolina in the US.
“The whole system can be personalised to account for a diabetic’s weight and sensitivity to insulin,” he added, “so we could make the smart patch even smarter.”
The study found that the new, painless patch could lower blood glucose in a mouse model of Type 1 diabetes for up to nine hours.
More pre-clinical tests and subsequent clinical trials in humans will be required before the patch can be administered to patients, but the approach shows great promise.
Diabetes affects more than 387 million people worldwide and that number is expected to grow to 592 million by the year 2035.
Patients with Type 1 and advanced Type 2 diabetes try to keep their blood sugar levels under control with regular finger pricks and repeated insulin shots.
Because mice are less sensitive to insulin than humans, the researchers think that the blood sugar-stabilising effects of the patch could last even longer when given to actual patients.
Gu said their eventual goal is to develop a smart insulin patch that patients would only have to change every few days.
The study was published in the journal proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.