As you already know treating type I diabetes and certain cases of type II diabetes requires frequent and painful insulin injections or an insulin pump for insulin infusion. However, that might end.
The researchers from the University of North Carolina and NC State made a more patient-friendly option.
The researchers developed artificial cells which automatically release insulin into the bloodstream in case of rising sugar levels.
These ABCs. i.e., artificial beta cells mimic the functions of the natural controllers of sugar, the beta cells of the pancreas. In fact, the dysfunction or loss of these cells leads to cases of type II diabetes and type I diabetes.
The main idea is to insert these artificial cells into the patients. And replace them every few days or insert them with a disposable or painless skin patch.
The researchers gave one single injection of these cells in mice with diabetes that lacked beta cells. This injection normalized the blood sugar levels of the animals fast and also kept their levels normal for 5 days.
According to Zhen Gu, the principal investigator, the plan is to further test and optimize these artificial cells in larger animals. Also to make a skin patch delivery system and finally test these cells in people that have diabetes.
In the United States, around 6 million people use insulin for their diabetes treatment, either by mechanical pump or injection.
Till now, delivering insulin in the form of a pill has been challenging. It is like that since insulin is a big molecule. A molecule that would be destroyed by the digestive acids and enzymes before it would reach the bloodstream.
However, the issue with the current insulin treatments is not their form. But the fact that they are not able to control the blood sugar levels efficiently and automatically as the normal pancreatic cells.
Therefore, transplants of pancreatic cells might solve this issue. But the problem is that these cell transplants are usually expensive. Also, there is a need for donor cells which are in short supply, immune-suppressing medications.
Usually, they fail because of the destruction of the cell transplants. Zhen Gu together with his colleagues has been researching solutions to this issue with insulin delivery for the last decade.
For this study, the researchers adopted an ambitious approach to making artificial cells, which to a great extent, will do the same as the natural pancreatic cells.
These artificial cells are made with a more simplified version in comparison to the normal cell. The main innovation is that these particular cells have specially made, insulin-stuffed vesicles.
A rise in the blood sugar levels causes chemical changes in the vesicle coating, which induces the vesicles to begin fusing with the outer membrane of the artificial cells and as a result release the insulin payloads.
According to the lead author, Zhaowei Chen, this is actually the first demonstration of such a vesicle fusion process for delivering insulin which employs vesicles that contain insulin such as the ones in the beta-cell.
Also, it is able to reproduce the functions in the beta cells in sensing glucose and respond with insulin secretion. The artificial cells showed fast responsiveness when it comes to the excess sugar levels in mice without beta cells and in lab-dish tests.
The researchers plan to do further tests in order to make a method for delivering the artificial cells painlessly with the help of a skin patch that would be simply replaced.
According to John Buse, the co-author, and director of UNC Diabetes Care, there is much work necessary in order to optimize this approach.
There is more to be done before human studies are done. But no matter what, the results till now are actually creative and remarkable first step towards solving very crucial diabetes issue.
Furthermore, Gu along with his colleagues are also working. But separately on a smart insulin patch that secretes insulin and senses blood sugar levels.
Every new research is a new step towards better diabetes treatment.