Nanomedicines May Revolutionize Treatment of Diabetes

The field of nanomedicine continues to grow and develop from a theoretical idea put forth by scientists decades ago to a more and more fully-fledged system; as scientists work on discovering new uses for nanotechnology, many are turning towards diabetes research to find new applications for existing innovations, and refining ideas for better treatment options for patients with the disease. After all, because the disease affects more than 350 million people—and the number continues to grow—there is a great deal of room for technological advancement, and a great demand for change. While even people without the disease are familiar with blood sugar testing and medicine regimens, requiring painful blood sampling by way of prodigy test strips, freestyle lancets, contour strips and other diabetes testing supplies, doctors and patients alike are in agreement that these methods are insufficient for daily needs. In addition, many diabetics must also take insulin, which requires a syringe supply or frequent purchase of insulin pen needles or insulin pump supplies. Not only do the costs of the products add up, but the ways in which they are used can be painful.


One of the ways in which nanotechnology is working to shift this paradigm is with the development of a blood sugar Breathalyzer. Scientists at Western New England University are using nanotechnology to detect acetone in the breath, a marker that has been shown to correlate accurately to blood-glucose levels. The patient breathes into a chamber containing a one-use test slide, coated with a fine, nanometer-thick film that reacts to acetone. The slide is read and the data converted to give a reading of the acetone level present. This is, of course, a little different from traditional blood-glucose meters, which provide a different indicator, but diabetics can easily be taught to understand what these different readings mean to them. In addition, the Breathalyzer, if successful, would obviate the need for products like freestyle lancets, contour strips, prodigy test strips and other blood-glucose meter supplies for diabetics. This innovation alone won’t change the need for some diabetics to administer insulin, however—a process that requires purchasing a syringe supply, or insulin pen needles or insulin pump supplies.


That issue is being addressed—partially at least—by another application of nanotechnology. A research team at North Carolina State University, headed up by Professor Zhen Gu, is working on a few different systems that may in essence create an artificial replacement for the beta cells in the pancreas, which are damaged in many diabetics. Gu says of the ongoing project, “Our overall aim is to create ‘smart delivery’ systems for insulin provision.” One of the ideas in development is an injectable nanoscale sensory network that degrades gradually to release insulin when glucose levels in the blood are high. The team announced last year that it had maintained normal blood sugar levels for up to 10 days in mice who have type one diabetes. Of course, while this would make it possible to drastically cut down on injections—and the need for things like insulin pen needles, insulin pump supplies, or an insulin syringe supply—on its own it doesn’t get rid of the need of these items altogether, and it also doesn’t necessarily get rid of the need of blood-glucose monitoring systems using products like freestyle lancets, prodigy test strips, and contour test strips. But, if these innovations can be combined, it could mean much more freedom for diabetics in the future.

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