In the 2017 Diabetes Statistics report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), there are 30.3 million people with diabetes in the US which is 9.4% of the US population. It’s also the seventh leading cause of death in the US.
Researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB) are working on an alternative therapeutic approach to regulating blood sugar levels for people with type 2 diabetes using a painless wearable skin patch that can last up to several days.
The proof-of-concept study was performed with mice to test the ability of the patch to respond to blood chemistry and manage glucose automatically.
In a press release, Richard Leapman, Ph.D., NIBIB Scientific Director said that this experimental approach could capitalize on the fact that people with type 2 diabetes can still produce some insulin. Leapman also stated that a weekly microneedle patch application would be less complicated and painful than the traditional methods of frequent blood testing.
To make the experimental patch scientists used alginate, a sticky natural substance that’s extracted from brown algae mixed with a formula of biochemical particles that stimulates a body’s insulin production when it’s needed and shuts off when normal blood sugar concentration is obtained. This was all poured into a microneedle form to create the patch. The scientists used alginate because it’s a pliable material and has to be able to poke the dermis, rather than break the skin. The dissolvable microneedles make the patch a responsive delivery system for the therapeutics to be absorbed by the body over a period of time, rather than all at once.
The study showed that just a half inch square of the patch on mice could control blood sugar levels for a week. Researchers said the patch would need to be modified for use with human skin including scaling up the size and extending the microneedle.
The study published online in Nature Communications in November 2017.
Jennifer Kite-Powell is a writer who looks at the intersection of technology and science with art & culture, health, environment and industry. You can follow her on Twitter @jennalee.