Researchers develop new insulin delivery system

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Drs. Norbert Herzog & David Niesel

Medical Discovery News

Diabetes is a life-changing diagnosis that can mean several injections of insulin and several tests of blood glucose levels every day.

Some people with diabetes say they feel like a pin cushion, and children with Type 1 diabetes often find it particularly challenging.

However, there may be some relief in sight thanks to nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles range in size from one to 2,500 nanometers. For an idea, the width of a strand of human hair is 100,000 nanometers.

Researchers have developed a new insulin delivery system that involves a network of nanoparticles. Once injected, the nanoparticles release insulin in response to increases in blood sugar levels for up to a week.

They have been tested in mice and if they perform similarly in people, this may be a better solution to managing diabetes than multiple daily injections.

Nanoparticles used to deliver insulin consist of an insulin core, modified dextran and glucose oxidase enzymes. When glucose levels rise in the blood, the glucose oxidase enzyme in the nanoparticle activates and converts the blood glucose into gluconic acid. This, in turn, dissolves the modified dextran, releasing the insulin in the core of the nanoparticle.

The more sugar in the blood system, the more insulin is released, mimicking what the pancreas does in those without diabetes. Insulin is a hormone produced by the pancreas that is required to get glucose into cells.

Those with Type 1 diabetes must estimate the amount of carbohydrates in the foods they intend to eat, test their blood sugar levels then calculate the amount of insulin that will hopefully keep them in the normal range.

The body uses carbohydrates to make glucose, which is the primary fuel for cells. Carbohydrates include simple sugars such as lactose, fructose and glucose that are found naturally in foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables.

However, natural and artificial sugars like corn syrup, sweeteners and dextrose also are added to many processed foods. Everyone, especially diabetics, should limit foods that are high in added sugars.

Complex carbohydrates such as starch and dietary fiber are broken down to glucose but much more slowly. Dietary fibers are in vegetables, fruits, beans, peas and whole grains.

Most Americans don’t get enough dietary fiber because they eat too much bread and dough made from refined flour.

Most people, including diabetics, benefit from increasing their intake of whole grains such as brown rice, quinoa, whole wheat, rye and oats.

According to the American Diabetes Association, in 2011 there were 25.8 million diabetics, 8.3 percent of the population. An estimated 7 million more have not been diagnosed and another 79 million are prediabetic. In 2012, treating diabetes cost a staggering $245 billion.

While it is important to control the number of new cases of diabetes, devising new methods to more precisely control blood sugar will reduce complications from diabetes and make the lives of diabetics easier.

A new insulin delivery system involving nanoparticles could do just that.

Professors Norbert Herzog and David Niesel are biomedical scientists at the University of Texas Medical Branch. Learn more at medicaldiscoverynews.com.

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