Insulin patches for diabetes could replace injections

Diabetes from Shutterstock
Diabetes from Shutterstock

A joint North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina research project aims to replace insulin injections with an insulin patch.

Smart and painless

Dr. Zhen Gu, a professor at the schools' Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering, says the patch has been tested on mice and other animals and so far the results are promising.

"Basically we developed this kind of so-called smart insulin patch, which can sense the blood sugar level and release insulin at the right time only once the blood sugar goes up. And the insulin can be quickly released from the patch. And meanwhile once the blood sugar level goes to a normal range, less insulin is released or is just inhibited. Basically this kind of smart insulin patch is not only smart, it is also painless," Gu says.

Read: Different insulin regimens

For the 21 million Americans diagnosed with diabetes and the more than 387 million world-wide affected by the disease, insulin injections and attached insulin pumps could become things of the past.

Gu and others at the lab found a way to fit more than 100 microneedles onto the patch, which is less than the size of a dime. Each microneedle is filled with insulin and enzymes that can tell when blood sugar levels change.

Decreased chance of human error

"Basically we designed this kind of material – a polymer-based material, which can be sensitive to blood sugar level changes," Gu says. "We are trying to mimic the functioning of the beta cells or the vesicles inside the beta cells and they can disrupt once the blood sugar goes up and release insulin quickly."

Currently the patch works for up to nine hours, according to a recent study, but Gu hopes they can design it to last for several days.

This measure, Gu says, will decrease the chance of human error when administering insulin shots, which he says can be imprecise both in location and in the amount of insulin injected.

Read: Inhaled insulin flops

Administering too much insulin can induce hypoglycaemia when blood sugar levels fall too much. In the worst cases, it could result in death.

"We are very proud of our technology and we really want to translate it as fast as possible. Currently we are working with our collaborators and testing it on animals like mini pigs in a study. If this mini pig study successfully demonstrates it, we will move to the human being testing immediately," Gu says.

SOURCE: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, online June 22, 2015.

Read more:

Could insulin pills prevent diabetes?

Insulin pump may cut risk of heart disease deaths for diabetics

Order in which food is eaten affects blood sugar

Image: Diabetes from Shutterstock

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Voting Booth
Have you entered our Health of the Nation survey?
Please select an option Oops! Something went wrong, please try again later.
27% - 9954 votes
73% - 26313 votes