We’ve been hearing a lot about “smart” devices these days — smart locks, smart cars, smart speakers, even smart refrigerators. Now a team of researchers and bioengineers at three schools — UCLA, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the North Carolina School of Medicine — have reported they have developed a smart insulin patch. The new device, they say, has shown the ability to first monitor blood sugar and then manage insulin levels in people with diabetes. According to Zhen Gu, PhD, of UCLA, “Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes. This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check one’s blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it’s needed.”
To get cutting-edge diabetes news, strategies for blood glucose management, nutrition tips, healthy recipes, and more delivered straight to your inbox, sign up for our free newsletter!
The patch is about the size of a quarter and is equipped with tiny little microneedles. The microneedles are made with a glucose-sensing polymer that’s encapsulated with insulin. Once the user puts on the patch, the microneedles penetrate beneath the skin to a depth of just half a millimeter and begin to sense blood sugar levels. If blood sugar climbs to a certain number, the needles begin to release their preloaded insulin. When the blood sugar drops, the delivery of insulin slows down. This feature, the researchers say, can help prevent insulin overdosing. As Dr. Gu puts it, the patch “mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas but in a way that’s easy to use.”
In their experiments, the researchers reported, the patch controlled glucose levels in pigs with type 1 diabetes for around 20 hours. Now that the patch has been tested on animals, the next step will be human trials. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has accepted the device into its Emerging Technology Program, which helps companies through the regulatory process, and the researchers expect that human trials could begin within a few years.
Another of the researchers, John Buse, MD, of the University of North Carolina School of Medicine, said, “This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes care.” If everything goes as hoped, the researchers expect that someday the smart patch could be used with different drugs to manage other medical conditions besides diabetes.
Want to learn more about insulin delivery devices? Read “Ways to Inject Insulin: Syringes and Pens” and “Ways to Deliver Insulin: Inhalers and Insulin Pumps.”