The smart patch – a square sliver of tape no larger than a penny – has more than a hundred microneedles, each around the size of an eyelash, containing tiny reservoirs of insulin and glucose-sensing enzymes.
The device – which can be placed anywhere on the body – senses when blood sugar levels get too high and rapidly discharges the right amount of insulin into the bloodstream.
This device might just be a lifesaver for patients struggling with diabetes, as normally patients have to prick themselves prior to injecting themselves with insulin shots. The procedure is often quite traumatic and can even lead to fatal consequences, such as coma and death if insulin is over injected
The development of a “smart insulin patch” could one day make such an ordeal a thing of the past for the
millions of Americans who suffer from diabetes, according to the team behind the innovation, which includes members from the University of North Carolina (UNC) in Chapel Hill and NC State in Raleigh.
In the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the diabetes doctors and biomedical engineers that invented the painless patch describe how they tested it in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes and showed it lowered blood glucose for several hours.
However, as miraculous as it sounds, the research team says more tests and then clinical trials are needed before it becomes available for diabetics as an option.
The smart insulin patch works by mimicking the body’s own system for generating insulin – the beta cells of the pancreas – which produce and store insulin in tiny sacs or vesicles. They also sense changes in blood sugar and signal insulin to be released from the vesicles as needed.
The team constructed artificial vesicles that perform in a similar way out of two natural materials – hyaluronic acid (HA) used in cosmetics and 2-nitroimidazole (NI), an organic compound used in diagnostics.
Combined, the two compounds form a molecule which is hydrophilic (or water-loving) at one end (the HA part) and hydrophobic (water-repellent) at the other (the NI part). Groups of the molecule self-assemble into vesicles – rather like oil droplets do in water – with the water repellent ends on the inside and the water-loving ends on the outside.
The researchers found they could insert a core of solid insulin and enzymes designed to detect glucose into the artificial vesicles, which in large numbers formed millions of bubble-like nanostructures, each 100 times smaller than the thickness of human hair.