In the 2015 edition of Old Moore’s Almanac, Old Moore predicted that the end of injections was nigh. For anyone who is sick and tired of getting stabbed with a sharp metal stick, this is the news you have been waiting for.

Got diabetes? Know someone who has? Then things are looking up. A smart insulin patch could replace painful injections, thanks to a new invention from researchers at the University of North Carolina and NC State, who have created the first “smart insulin patch” that can detect increases in blood sugar levels and secrete doses of insulin into the bloodstream whenever needed.

The patch – a thin square no bigger than a one-cent coin – is covered with more than one hundred tiny needles, each about the size of an eyelash. These “microneedles” are packed with microscopic storage units for insulin and glucose-sensing enzymes that rapidly release their cargo when blood sugar levels get too high.

The study found that the new, painless patch could lower blood glucose in a mouse model of type 1 diabetes for up to nine hours. More pre-clinical tests and subsequent clinical trials in humans will be required before the patch can be administered to patients, but the approach shows great promise.

“We have designed a patch for diabetes that works fast, is easy to use, and is made from nontoxic, biocompatible materials,” said co-senior author Zhen Gu, PhD, a professor in the Joint UNC/NC State Department of Biomedical Engineering. “The whole system can be personalised to account for a diabetic’s weight and sensitivity to insulin,” he added, “so we could make the smart patch even smarter.”

Diabetes affects more than 387 million people worldwide, and that number is expected to grow to 592 million by the year 2035. Patients with type 1 and advanced type 2 diabetes try to keep their blood sugar levels under control with regular finger pricks and repeated insulin shots, a process that is painful and imprecise.

John Buse, MD, PhD, director of the UNC Diabetes Care Centre, said, “Injecting the wrong amount of medication can lead to significant complications like blindness and limb amputations, or even more disastrous consequences such as diabetic comas and death.”

Researchers have tried to remove the potential for human error by creating “closed-loop systems” that directly connect the devices that track blood sugar and administer insulin. However, these approaches involve mechanical sensors and pumps, with needle-tipped catheters that have to be stuck under the skin and replaced every few days.

In trials, the patch did not pose the hazards that insulin injections do. Injections can send blood sugar plummeting to dangerously low levels when administered too frequently. “The hard part of diabetes care is not the insulin shots, or the blood sugar checks, or the diet but the fact that you have to do them all several times a day every day for the rest of your life, said Buse. “If we can get these patches to work in people, it will be a game changer.”

The eventual goal, Gu said, is to develop a smart insulin patch that patients would only have to change every few days.

Old Moore has got it right again. Makes you want to buy the 2016 edition, huh?


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