Scientists target nighttime hypos

University of Notre Dame research is exploring how to use glucagon as a hypoglycaemic prevention measure, rather than as an emergency treatment for dangerously low blood glucose levels.

“A parent can check their child’s glucose levels right before they go to bed and everything looks fine, then around 2am their blood sugar is dangerously low — near comatose level,” said Matthew Webber, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Notre Dame.

Fear of hypos

Assoc Prof Webber has listened to parents of children with diabetes describe the fear of such an episode: waking up several times a night to check glucose levels, the panic of emergency situations, and rushing children to hospital in the middle of the night.

In severe situations, glucagon injections can stabilize blood glucose levels long enough for parents to get their child medical attention.

But in a new study, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Assoc Prof Webber is rethinking the traditional use of glucagon as an emergency response by administering it as a preventive measure.

Glucogon only releases when BGLs fall

In the research, published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, Assoc Prof Webber and his team illustrate how they successfully developed hydrogels that remain intact in the presence of glucose but slowly destabilize as levels drop, releasing glucagon into the system, raising glucose levels.

“In the field of glucose-responsive materials, the focus has typically been on managing insulin delivery to control spikes in blood sugar,” Assoc Prof Webber said.

“There are two elements to blood glucose control. You don’t want your blood sugar to be too high and you don’t want it to be too low. We’ve essentially engineered a control cycle using a hydrogel that breaks down when glucose levels drop to release glucagon as needed.”

The gels are water-based with a three-dimensional structure.

Aim is to administer gels before bed

Assoc Prof Webber describes them as having a mesh-like architecture resembling a pile of spaghetti noodles with glucagon “sprinkled” throughout.

According to the study, in animal models the gels dissolved as glucose levels dropped, eventually breaking down to release their glucagon contents.

Ideally in future applications, the gels would be administered each night before bed.

“If a hypoglycaemic episode arose later on, three or five hours later while the child is sleeping, then the technology would be there ready to deploy the therapeutic, correct the glucose imbalance and prevent a severe episode.”


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