High-Tech Gel Could Be New Diabetes Treatment

A nanoparticle-based gel made at MIT could effectively regulate blood sugar levels.

Insulin pump

MIT research could do away with insulin pumps. Photo via Shutterstock

For Type 1 diabetes sufferers, constant monitoring of insulin and blood sugar levels is both inconvenient and time consuming. But now there is some good news: An MIT project currently underway could allow the body to do it automatically.

MIT researchers have created a type of nanoparticle—for those of us not enrolled at MIT, that’s an extremely tiny particle often used in biomedical research—that can determine when glucose levels in the blood are off and immediately trigger the secretion of enough insulin (which breaks down glucose and gets blood sugar levels under control) to stop the problem. In essence, the particles, which are used to create a toothpaste-consistency gel, are mimicking the role of the pancreas, which is the organ that malfunctions in those who suffer from diabetes. A report from MIT quotes chemical engineering professor Daniel Anderson, who is involved in the research:

“Insulin really works, but the problem is people don’t always get the right amount of it. With this system of extended release, the amount of drug secreted is proportional to the needs of the body,” says Daniel Anderson, an associate professor of chemical engineering and member of MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Institute for Medical Engineering and Science.

So far, the gel has only been tested in mice, but those results were promising. A single injection of the gel controlled blood sugar levels in the mice for about 10 days without incident before safely dissolving into the body. The scientists believe the technology could be transferred to humans, and are currently working to fine tune speed of reaction, dosage, and delivery method. The MIT report quotes chemical engineering professor Frank Doyle:

“Clearly longer-term studies are warranted, but from a closed-loop perspective, this is a very clever approach to normalizing blood-glucose levels in individuals with diabetes, achieved by integrating the glucose sensing with the insulin delivery, much like a natural pancreatic beta cell,” says Frank Doyle, a professor of chemical engineering at the University of California at Santa Barbara who was not part of the research team.

With diabetes becoming an ever-growing issue for our society, we’re in support of any research that could provide a safe, long-term treatment. Add in the fact that it’s one that would greatly improve quality of life for those with the condition, and we’re on board.