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Smart microneedle insulin patch could make it easier to treat diabetes

Close to 10% of the U.S. population, around 30.3 million people, have diabetes. A new treatment delivery system created by bioengineers at the University of North Carolina and the
University of California, Los Angeles could help make life easier for them — via a smart insulin patch that’s about the size of a quarter. All a patient would need to use it would be to slap on a new patch at the start of the day, after which it would monitor and manage glucose levels for the next 24 hours.

“It is smart and simple, which means it could help enhance the health and quality of life for people with diabetes,” Zhen Gu, the study leader and a professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, told Digital Trends. “It is a smart glucose-responsive insulin release device because it can respond to high blood sugar levels and release only the necessary insulin dosage, thus reducing the risk of hypoglycemia. This is a small and disposable device, so it is very simple and convenient to use; one can remove the patch any time to stop the administration of insulin.”

The glucose-monitoring adhesive patch is covered in tiny microneedles, each one less than a millimeter in length. They are made from a glucose-sensing polymer and come pre-loaded with insulin. When the patch is applied, the microneedles penetrate the skin and start measuring blood sugar levels. If the glucose levels increase, the polymer triggers the release of insulin. At the point at which levels return to normal, the patch’s insulin delivery also slows down. While this approach still involves pricking the patient with a needle, these needles are much smaller than regular needles. As a result, the patch is less painful than an ordinary injection.

So far, the patch has been successful in studies involving pigs. The researchers were able to use it to successfully control the glucose levels in these animals, which had Type I diabetes, for around 20 hours. Next, the researchers are hoping to progress to further trials, with the goal of commercializing their technology.

“This patch has already been accepted by FDA’s emerging technology programs for clinical trial applications,” Gu said.

A paper describing the research was recently published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

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