A smart insulin patch created by a UCLA-led research team could simplify diabetes treatment. This smart patch is developed by the research team led by a bioengineering professor at UCLA, Zhen Gu along with other researchers from UCLA, the University of North Carolina and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, among other institutes.
It is a quarter-sized patch which cost only 25 cents to produce. It can be used for 24 hours. People suffering from diabetes cannot process glucose, which is essential for fuel cells and brain activity, leading to high levels of sugar in the blood.
According to the study published in Diabetes Research and Clinical Practice, almost 463 million people around the globe have diabetes. Typically, diabetic patients regulate their blood sugar level with the self-administration of insulin injections and they draw their own blood for keeping track of blood glucose levels.
This newly created patch is applied directly to the skin. It eliminates the need for daily self-monitoring. It delivers a precise amount of insulin into blood and directly responding to the elevated glucose levels.
Each patch has a matrix of microneedles that reach into the surface of the skin, less than a millimeter. These needles are made up of a polymer matrix which is able to efficiently sense and respond to the fluctuations in glucose levels in the body.
According to the study, an increase in blood sugar levels will trigger the matrix to build negative charges, which makes the needle to swell and diffuse the preloaded insulin into the bloodstream of the patients.
Gu said that the patch eliminates the need for self-administration of insulin injections. Moreover, this smart patch delivers a fixed amount of insulin into the bloodstream. The amount depends upon the weight and age of the patients.
The patch senses the blood sugar levels just like the pancreas. It mimics the pancreas and releases only the necessary amount of insulin required for maintaining glucose levels in the body.
In healthy peoples, beta cells in the pancreas made, store and release insulin, an essential hormone needed by the body to regulate blood glucose levels. However, the beta cells in people with diabetes are unable to make this hormone and regulate sugar levels in the blood as efficiently.
The body cannot make insulin on its own in people with Type 1 diabetes because their immune system has destroyed the ability of its own beta cells to produce insulin.
Whereas in the case of Type 2 diabetes which is the non-insulin dependent type of diabetes is marked by insulin resistance. In this, beta cells are forced to overproduce insulin for maintaining normal blood glucose levels.
If the glucose levels of diabetic patients are not monitored regularly, complications can occur. Low glucose levels can lead to neurological disorders, while high glucose levels can lead to kidney diseases, heart failure, and nerve damage and in some extreme cases, death.
This Insulin patch is one of the many other developments Gu has worked on for the treatment of diabetes. He and his lab made the first prototype of this smart patch in 2015 while at UNC.
In 2019, Gu and his fellow researchers at UCLA and UNC created a type of insulin called i-insulin. This so-called ‘smart’ insulin can automatically respond to the fluctuations in glucose levels in the blood.
Gu said that after creating i-insulin, he was compelled to develop an optimal method to regulate its delivery, which led to the discovery of the patch.
The scientist and doctors are currently awaiting for FDA approval to start its clinical trials. They are hopeful that it could be in trials within a couple of years with added applications for some other medical disorders.