Smart insulin patch could monitor and manage glucose levels

Researchers in the US have developed a smart insulin-delivery patch that could one day monitor and manage glucose levels in people living with diabetes and deliver the necessary insulin dosage. The adhesive patch, about the size of a 10 cent piece, is intended for once-a-day use.

The study, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, describes results conducted in the lab on mice and pigs. The team in now applying for FDA approval of clinical trials in humans.

The Smart Patch

The adhesive patch monitors blood glucose. It has doses of insulin pre-loaded in very tiny microneedles, less than one-millimeter in length that deliver medicine quickly when the blood glucose levels reach a certain threshold. When blood glucose returns to normal, the patch’s insulin delivery also slows down. The researchers said the advantage is that it can help prevent overdosing of insulin, which can lead to hypoglycemia, seizures, coma or even death.

“It has always been a dream to achieve insulin-delivery in a smart and convenient manner,” said study co-author John Buse, Director of the UNC Diabetes Center and the North Carolina Translational and Clinical Sciences (NC TraCS) Institute. “This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes care.”

The treatment for diabetes hasn’t changed much in past decades. Patients with diabetes draw blood to measures glucose levels and then administer the necessary dose of insulin. Currently insulin can be injected with a needle and syringe, a pen or insulin pump. A smart insulin patch would sense the need for insulin and deliver it.

The microneedles used in the patch are made with a glucose-sensing polymer that’s encapsulated with insulin. Once applied on the skin, the microneedles penetrate under the skin and can sense blood sugar levels. If glucose levels go up, the polymer is triggered to release the insulin. Each microneedle is smaller than a regular needle used to draw blood and do not reach as deeply, so the patch is less painful than a pin prick.

Each microneedle penetrates about a half millimeter below the skin, which is sufficient to deliver insulin into the body.

Laboratory tests have shown the patch to successfully control glucose levels for about 20 hours.

Next Steps

“Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes. This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it’s needed. It mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas but in a way that’s easy to use,” said Zhen Gu, study co-author from the UNC Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The technology has been accepted into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emerging Technology Program. Researchers are applying for FDA approval for human clinical trials, which they anticipate could start within a few years.

The team envisions that the smart microneedle patch could also be adapted with different drugs to manage other medical conditions as well.

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