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January 3, 2017

Smart insulin can make life easier for diabetes patients

British scientists are working on a new, less invasive and easier way to deliver insulin. The method should help people with diabets dispense with a lot of the tedious, repetitive work of monitoring sugar levels and injecting themselves with insulin, David Gregory-Kumar writes in an article on the BBC website.

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For people with type 1 diabetes much of their time is spent controlling the disease by testing their blood and injecting insulin. This can get overwhelming, especially for young people. But even ‘old hands’ can sometimes experience "diabetes burnout".

Already there are new methods on the market for less invasive testing of blood sugar levels. Now, scientists in Birmingham are starting work on a delivery system that might allow them to deliver insulin without all the testing and injections. Dr John Fossey has just secured funding from a USA diabetes charity for research into the "smart insulin" concept.

Gel with insulin

Dr Fossey and his team have used chemistry to create a gel that only dissolves in the presence of glucose. The idea is to load up the gel with insulin, then as the glucose levels rise in someone with diabetes, the gel dissolves and the insulin is released into their system.

It would be an alternative to the current methods where a diabetic has to carry out blood tests, work out the right dose of insulin and then inject it. With the gel, the chemistry does all this automatically. This could make life a lot easier diabetes patients, or for parents with young children suffering from diabetes.

‘Imagine you are a parent to a young child with type 1 diabetes and they want to go on a sleepover. Sadly the parent hosting the party is not comfortable overseeing the blood testing and insulin injections your child will need. Well with this gel you could inject your kid once, perhaps under the arm, and the gel would take care of everything. It might even be possible to reduce injections to just one a week.’

Long term project

Other teams are trying something similar, but Dr Fossey believes his gel has unique chemistry that makes it the best prospect for this sort of approach. It is very early stages in the research though. The USA diabetes charity funding lasts for two years.

After they’ve worked out the chemistry, the project will then move into a biology lab and then eventually, in about 10 years, we might see clinical trials in humans. So it is a long-term research project, but those involved in diabetes research say this is a really exciting potential new treatment.

Read here more about the research

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