Artificial Beta Cells Sense Glucose Levels And Deliver Insulin

People with type 1 diabetes, and sometimes type 2, require daily insulin injections, or insulin pump infusions, to manage their blood sugar levels.

Now, researchers at the University of North Carolina and NC State have developed an artificial beta cell that could eliminate the need for daily injections.

The artificial beta cells (ABCs) function to control the body’s supply of glucose, and would be inserted under a patient’s skin every few days, or delivered via a painless, disposable skin patch. Just one injection of ABCs into mice that lacked beta cells rapidly normalized their blood sugar level, and it remained normal up to five days.

“Our plan now is to further optimize and test these synthetic cells in larger animals, develop a skin patch delivery system for them, and ultimately test them in people with diabetes,” said lead investigator Zhen Gu, PhD, a professor in the Joint UNC/NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering.

The ABCs that Gu and colleagues created have a two-layer lipid membrane that surrounds vesicles (sacs) full of insulin. As glucose levels elevate the vesicle coating changes chemically, causing them to fuse with the ABC’s outer membrane. As vesicles meld with the outer membrane, they unload their insulin.

The research team is planning more pre-clinical tests, and expects to develop a skin patch for pain-free delivery of ABCs. In a separate project, they are also working on a cell-free “smart insulin patch” that will detect glucose levels and release insulin into the bloodstream.

“There is still much work needed to optimize the artificial-cell approach before human studies are attempted, but these results so far are a remarkable, creative first step to a new way to solve the diabetes problem using chemical engineering as opposed to mechanical pumps or living transplants,” said investigator John Buse, MD, PhD, professor at UNC, and director of the UNC Diabetes Care Center.

Source: newswise/UNC School of Medicine
Photo: UNC and NC State

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