Insulin patch could take the place of injections for diabetes

In 2013, 10.6 percent of Kentucky adults had diabetes, a big increase from 2000, when 6.5 percent had the disease, according to the 2015 Kentucky Diabetes Report. In a few years, diabetics may no longer need to inject insulin, and researchers have invented an insulin patch that can measure increases in blood sugar levels and release insulin into the bloodstream when it’s required.

The penny-sized patch includes more than 100 small needles about the size of an eyelash. Each needle has insulin storage units and glucose-sensing enzymes. More clinical trials in humans will be required before the patch can be given to patients, but the study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, discovered that the patch could lower blood glucose in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes for up to nine hours.

“We have designed a patch for diabetes that works fast, is easy to use and is made from nontoxic, biocompatible materials,” said co-author Zhen Gu, a professor in the joint University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The whole system can be personalized to account for a diabetic’s weight and sensitivity to insulin, so we could make the patch even smarter.”

“Injecting the wrong amount of medication can lead to significant complications like blindness and limb amputations or even more disastrous consequences such as diabetic comas and death,” said John Buse, co-senior author of the paper and the director of the UNC Diabetes Care Center. The patch imitates the body’s beta cells, which are natural insulin generators.

“The hard part of diabetes is not the insulin shots, or the blood-sugar checks, or the diet, but the fact that you have to do them all several times a day every day for the rest of your life,” Buse said. “If we can get these patches to work in people, it will be a game changer.”

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