Smart patch could be used as insulin delivery method for diabetes patients

A patch the size of a coin has been created by researchers as a way to detect glucose levels in the blood and deliver insulin when required.

Concept: sugar in blood

A new smart insulin delivery patch has been developed by researchers which they say could be used to monitor and manage glucose levels in people with diabetes and deliver the necessary insulin dosage.

When blood sugar returns to normal, the patch’s insulin delivery also slows down”

According to the team, from University of California LA (UCLA), University of North Carolina and MIT, all US, the adhesive patch, which is about the size of a coin, is simple to manufacture and intended for once-a-day use.

Research on pigs showed that the patch is effective at monitoring glucose in the blood with type 1 diabetes for about 20 hours. It has doses of insulin pre-loaded in very tiny microneedles, less than 1mm in length which deliver medicine quickly when blood sugar levels reach a certain threshold.

The microneedles used in the patch are made with a glucose-sensing polymer that is encapsulated with insulin. Once applied on the skin, the microneedles can penetrate it and sense blood sugar levels. If glucose levels rise, the polymer is triggered to release the insulin. Each microneedle is smaller than a regular needle used to draw blood and do not reach as deeply, so the patch is less painful than a pin prick. Each microneedle penetrates about a half millimetre below the skin, which is sufficient to deliver insulin into the body.

Smart insulin delivery patch

The ‘smart insulin patch’ (credit: Zhen Gu Lab, UCLA).

When blood sugar returns to normal, the patch’s insulin delivery also slows down. The researchers said this is an advantage as it can help to prevent insulin overdosing, which can lead to hypoglycemia, seizures, coma or even death.

“Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes,” said Dr Zhen Gu, professor of bioengineering at UCLA. “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 team have applied to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for approval of clinical trials in humans.

The study was published in Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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