Diabetes and technology are meeting in research labs all over the world. Scientists are teaching nanoparticles and microchips to join the cause for those of us with type 1 and 2 diabetes.
Stem cell research is making great strides, but many scientists are not waiting for the promise of stem cells. They are using what they know of bioengineering and nanotechnology in search of new ways to treat diabetes.
Diabetes and Technology With Microchips
An implanted microchip that delivers a drug has been tested with a medication for severe osteoporosis, and it is working. The osteoporosis drug was chosen for a clinical trial because it is given in an injection.
There has been a problem with compliance in women who need the medication, because of the pain and inconvenience of the daily injection. And for their first trial the doctors needed to use very small doses of medicine. The osteoporosis drug fit their needs.
A tiny microchip was fitted with 20 wells, the freeze-dried medicine was put in the wells, and the titanium chip was covered with a special layer of gold nanoparticles. Nanoparticles are thousands of times smaller than a human cell, and this layer was engineered to melt away and release a dose when it was activated by a special signal.
The microchips were implanted under the skin of the women in the clinical trial, and each one was attached to a receiver the size of a pacemaker that was also implanted.
After that the medicine could be released on a radio frequency command from a computer at the lab or by cell phone at home for some of the women. The clinical trial worked beautifully. Almost all of the medicine was released at the right time, and all of the women found this new way of taking their medication very easy to stick with.
It was considered a complete success. But the microchip only held 20 doses. Forteo, the company that makes the microchip, is working on an implant that will hold 365 doses, enough for a full year. But they believe it will be several years before the microchip will be readily available.
The delivery system won’t work for insulin because the amount is too large for the microchip, but other injectables could be candidates for this implantable device. Many of the women said they forgot the device was inside them, and they enjoyed not having to remember to inject medication every day.
If implantable microchips don’t appeal to you, how about a nanotech vaccine? Nanoparticles thousands of times smaller than a single cell were given a protein coat that was engineered to suppress the immune response of T-cells.
In type 1 diabetes, T-cells attack the cells in the pancreas that make insulin. Of course, T-cells are supposed to fight bacteria that invade the body, but in autoimmune disorders they attack the body’s systems instead.
For a type 1 it means gradual or speedy loss of beta cells as the T-cells invade and destroy them. The nanoparticles created by researchers in labs suppressed the autoimmune response of the T-cells in the pancreas without affecting the immune response anywhere else.
The test was done with mice that were given type 1 diabetes and then given a vaccine of the nanoparticles. Scientists watched as the vaccine cured the mice, reversing their diabetes. This is a major breakthrough because it is the first time that suppressing the immune response in one area did not affect the immune response of the entire organism.
Not only diabetes but a whole host of autoimmune disorders will be aided by this kind of targeted vaccine, and the future of diabetes and technology appears bright with promise. Nanoparticles are also being used for nano-ink tattoos and blood sugar detecting contact lenses.
The bacteria E. coli is an easily grown bacteria. Scientists are using E. coli that has been altered so that it is harmless, and they are making bioengineered bacteria that produce other things for them.
One of those things is GLP-1, a hormone that triggers production of insulin and helps alpha and beta cells in the pancreas become more sensitive. Essentially this is the reverse of insulin resistance.
The bioengineered E. coli were fed to diabetic mice, and in 80 days the mice had normal glucose levels in their blood.
The company researching this bacteria is planning to add it to yogurt in the hope of replacing insulin shots. If a bacteria can deliver drugs without pills and shots by creating a snack, that would make life easier for those of us who hate needles and medications.
It is far too early to know whether the altered E. coli bacteria is safe for humans, and they don’t know for sure that it will do in humans what it did in mice. As with many other things, it will be years before we see diabetic yogurt as a medication.
There is another company called Kumetrix that is developing a silicon microneedle for giving daily shots. They say the needle is as fine as a human hair. It is hard to believe needles as tiny as they are now can deliver insulin, but it looks like ultra-fine needles will one day be replaced by microneedles.
And that is only one of the many changes we will see in the next few years. That is because 25.8 million children and adults have diabetes just in the U.S. We had 1.9 million new cases in people over 19 in 2010. The market is huge and the potential financial gain for cutting edge medical companies is astronomical.
So the race is on for a new medication delivery system, a great 24-hour glucose monitor, and a real cure for type 1 diabetes. It is going to make this decade exciting. A better grasp of the origins of diabetes and technology at the microscopic level — these two things are aiding scientific discoveries the world over.
Add to that the ongoing adult stem cell research, and we have no idea what might happen. But while we are waiting, we type 2 diabetics should remember what lifestyle changes can do.
We don’t have to wait for science. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise hold out hope for us today. It is a great way to live no matter what happens with diabetes and technology.