For the millions of Americans living with Type 1 diabetes, controlling blood sugar levels is a necessary but often painful way of life.
People with Type 1 diabetes are not able to produce their own insulin, a hormone needed to convert food into energy the body needs to carry out daily activities. So, they often must rely on insulin therapy and keep a close eye on their blood-sugar levels. This can involve daily insulin shots and numerous finger pricks throughout the day to check their levels.
Now, biomedical engineers are developing a new way to deliver drugs like insulin to diabetic patients. The new method could release insulin for up to 10 days, eliminating the need for a daily insulin shot.
“It releases the insulin at the right time, so this is kind of smart or an intelligent system,” said Zhen Gu, a biomedical engineer at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
This new material contains chitosan, the same stuff found naturally in shrimp and crab shells, so it’s safe for the body. It also has the ability to hold insulin. Once the material is injected into the body it reacts to blood-sugar levels.
When blood-sugar levels rise, it triggers the material to release insulin automatically. As the insulin is released, the body’s blood-sugar levels begin to drop, causing the material to shrink and trap any remaining insulin for later use when needed.
“It can swell and it can shrink…the purpose is to engineer this kind of smart material,” said Gu.
The material has had excellent results in preliminary testing on mice. Researchers believe that with further testing it could be developed to deliver insulin to diabetic patients with just one shot a week, or, with further development, even one shot each year.
Researchers say the material could also be engineered to release cancer drugs directly into tumors on a timed basis.
Karin Heineman is the executive producer of Inside Science TV. She has produced over 600 video news segments on science, technology, engineering and math in the past 13 years for Inside Science TV and its predecessor, Discoveries and Breakthroughs Inside Science.
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