Researchers from the University of North Carolina (UNC) have developed a patient-friendly option for treating diabetes, artificial beta cells that automatically release insulin into the bloodstream when glucose levels rise.
Nearly six million people in the United States use insulin as an injection or a mechanical pump for the treatment of diabetes. However, such treatments do not control blood glucose automatically and as efficiently as the normal insulin-secreting pancreatic cells.
Therefore, Zhen Gu, the principal investigator of the study and his colleagues developed these artificial beta cells (AβCs) that mimic the functions of the body’s natural insulin-secreting beta cells.
These AβCs have been constructed with a simple two-layered lipid membrane containing specially designed insulin-stuffed vesicles. As the blood glucose levels rise, chemical changes occur in the vesicle coating causing them to fuse with the outer membrane and release insulin.
A single injection of these AβCs in diabetic mice without beta cells normalized their blood glucose within an hour and kept so for five days. Control mice injected with no-insulin AβCs remained hyperglycemic.
“We plan to further optimize and test these synthetic cells in larger animals, develop a skin patch delivery system for them, and ultimately test them in people with diabetes,” said Gu.
“This vesicle fusion process for delivering insulin is the first of its kind that functions like the body’s natural glucose control mechanism,” said Zhaowei Chen, PhD, a lead author of the study.
“Though much needs to be done, but the results so far are remarkable and lay down the first step to a new way of treating diabetes,” added the co-author John Buse.