This coin-sized smart insulin patch could monitor glucose for diabetes management

Researchers at three universities have developed a smart insulin-delivery patch that has the potential to also monitor and manage glucose levels in people with diabetes.

The adhesive patch was developed by a team of researchers and bioengineers from UCLA, the University of North Carolina School of Medicine and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is the size of a quarter and can be easily manufactured for once-a-day use.

Research on the smart insulin patch has been conducted in mice and pigs and was successful in tests in mice in 2015 at UNC. The team is now applying to FDA approval of clinical trials in humans.

“Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes,” Zhen Gu, professor of bioengineering and UCLA, said in a news release. “This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check one’s blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it’s needed. It mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas but in a way that’s easy to use.”

The adhesive patch monitors blood sugar and has doses of insulin pre-loaded in tiny microneedles on the patch to deliver medicine quickly when glucose levels reach a certain level. The insulin delivery slows down once it detects glucose levels are back in a normal range.

“It has always been a dream to achieve insulin-deliver in a smart and convenient manner,” John Buse, the study’s co-author, said. “This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes care.”

Microneedles in the patch are made with a glucose-sensing polymer that’s enclosed with insulin. Once the patch is on the skin, the microneedles penetrate under the skin and start to sense glucose levels. If there is a change in glucose, the polymers on the patch release insulin through the microneedles, which are less than 1 mm in length. The microneedles penetrate a half-millimeter below the skin.

When tested in pigs, the patch was able to control glucose levels in type 1 diabetes for 20 hours.

“I am glad the team could bring this smart insulin patch one more step close to reality, and we look forward to hopefully seeing it move forward to someday help people with diabetes,” Robert Lander, the study’s co-author, said.

The researchers plan to expand the application of the drug delivery of the device outside of insulin once successfully tested in humans.

The research was published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering and was supported by UCLA-based startup Zenomics.

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