Nanoparticles for Diabetes

If you are living with type 1 diabetes or advanced type 2 diabetes, constant blood glucose monitoring and regular insulin injections are a part of day-to-day life, but that may be about to change.

Insulin injections can be painful, and because of the difficulty of—or an unwillingness to—prick oneself with a needle, insulin injections don’t necessarily mean effective blood sugar control. If you’re living with diabetes, however, not controlling your blood glucose levels can result in everything from lightheadedness to the need for limb amputation.

Now, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an easier fix. A new injectable gel delivers nanoparticles which then simulate natural insulin release, and they have been shown to stabilize glucose levels in mice.

This type of self-regulating treatment is called a “closed-loop” system, which means it is capable of “continuously delivering accurate levels of insulin in response to in vivo [in the body] glucose levels,” the study authors wrote.

Keeping Diabetes Under Control

Diabetes, also known as diabetes mellitus, is a group of chronic metabolic diseases that cause blood sugar levels in the body to fluctuate because of malfunctioning insulin regulation. Insulin is a hormone that is produced by beta cells in the pancreas, also known as pancreatic islet cells. Insulin facilitates the proper absorption of glucose by the body to be used as fuel.

Traditional insulin injections help the body regulate blood sugar levels, but because the patient has to actively monitor and administer the insulin, it’s an “open-loop” system with room for errors. Not only have the MIT researchers developed a closed-loop system that reacts in real time to fluctuating glucose levels, they’ve developed an injectable technology that imitates the production of insulin by pancreatic islet cells.

“An artificial ‘close-loop’ system able to mimic pancreas activity and release insulin in response to glucose level changes has the potential to improve patient compliance and health,” the study authors wrote.

Instead of daily insulin injections, users of this injectable polymeric nanoparticle-cross-linked network—a gel loaded with little nanoparticle beads—may soon be able to control their blood sugar for up to 10 days at a time with just one dose. 

Getting a Nano Fix

The nanoparticles researchers used contained four components: an acid-degradable polymeric matrix, polyelectrolyte-based surface coatings, glucose-specific enzymes, and recombinant insulin. In response to hyperglycemic (high blood sugar) environments and by reacting to differing pH levels caused by too much or too little glucose in the body, the nanoparticles release doses of insulin to maintain a normal blood sugar level. 

Diabetic mice were injected with four different solutions, and the nano-network loaded with insulin and enzymes resulted in stable glucose levels for up to 10 days. Better yet, the nanoparticles aren’t harmful—they’re made of soluble dextran, a type of sugar. Once they do their job, they dissolve.

While prescription-ready gels containing nanoparticles are still years away, it seems the next big thing in diabetes treatment will be on the nano scale.

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