Nanotechnology Offers A Life With Fewer Insulin Injections
Needing fewer insulin injections is a lifestyle change that many diabetics would welcome.
A new technique using nanotechnology to regulate blood sugar levels may make this a reality. It allows insulin to be released painlessly between infrequent injections using a small ultrasound gadget.
Although researchers are not sure why this new insulin-delivery technique works, they do have a plausible theory.
"We’ve done proof-of-concept testing in laboratory mice with type 1 diabetes," said researcher Dr. Zhen Gu. "We found that this technique achieves a quick release of insulin into the bloodstream, and that the nano-networks contain enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels for up to 10 days."
This insulin-delivery method involves injecting nanoparticles into a person’s skin. The particles are biocompatible and biodegradable. The insulin-carrying particles are made of polylactic-co-glycolic acid (or PLGA for short).
Each nanoparticle is given a porous coating that is either positively or negatively charged. The positively charged coating is from a material found in the shells of shrimp. The negatively charged coating is a substance found in seaweed. When injected into the subcutaneous skin layer, the oppositely charged particles are attracted to each other electrostatically, forming a "nano-network."
Once a network is under the skin, insulin begins diffusing from the porous particles. The diffused insulin is held in place by the electrostatic force of the nano-network, creating an insulin reservoir ready to be released into the bloodstream. To release the insulin, the nano-particled person sends ultrasound waves to their nano-network from a handheld ultrasound device.
The Plausible Theory
The researchers think that ultrasound waves activate tiny gas bubbles in the body's tissue. This temporarily disbands the nano-network, pushing the particles apart and weakening the electrostatic force. The insulin is then free to flow into the bloodstream.
When the ultrasound waves are discontinued, the electrostatic force reengages and pulls the charged particles back together. More insulin is diffused from the particles into the network reservoir, ready to be released.
"We know this technique works, and we think this is how it works, but we are still trying to determine the precise details," says researcher Dr. Yun Jing.
Life with Fewer Injections
Using this nano-technology, individuals with type 1 or advanced type 2 diabetes will need to inject a new nano-network under their skin about every 10 days. The previous network dissolves within a few weeks and is completely absorbed by the body. Although only lab mice can benefit from the technology now, researchers are working to make this insulin delivery method practical for people.
Just for fun, if you are interested in an early vision of nano-technology, check out the 1966 movie called "Fantastic Voyage." The plot was implausible even back then, but not the nano-idea behind it.