Diabetics could go needle-free thanks to new implantable device that slowly releases insulin when needed

A new implantable device with a built-in ‘oxygen factory’ could soon replace insulin injections for people with type 1 diabetes, scientists claim.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a chewing gum-sized device that produces an endless supply of oxygen needed to supply a diabetic patient’s body with crucial insulin-producing cells.

The device, tested on mice, has the potential to eradicate the need for diabetics to constantly monitor their blood sugar levels and inject themselves with insulin.

And scientists, who soon plan to test the device on humans, say it could also be adapted to treat other diseases that require repeated deliveries of proteins.

The minute device is about the size of a quarter. It relies on its ability to split water vapor into its component parts: hydrogen and oxygen. It then stores that oxygen in a chamber to stimulate the release of transplanted islet cells, which produce insulin

Dr. Daniel Anderson, a professor of chemical engineering at MIT and a leader in the development of the device, said, “You can think of this as a living medical device made of human cells that secrete insulin, along with an electronic life support system.”

The ability to manage type 1 diabetes without the tedious and painful processes of testing blood sugar levels and injecting insulin once a day would represent a major victory for the approximately two million Americans living with the condition.

The daily regimen of closely monitoring blood sugar levels and manually injecting insulin is enough to keep a diabetes patient alive and healthy.

But this process lacks the kind of finely tuned responsiveness that a non-diabetic’s body has and does not replicate the body’s natural ability to control blood sugar levels.

Dr. Anderson said: ‘The vast majority of diabetics who are insulin dependent inject themselves with insulin and do the best they can, but they don’t have healthy blood sugar levels.

“If you look at their blood sugar levels, even for people who are very careful, they can’t match what a living pancreas can do.”

After encountering the problem of how to provide transplanted insulin-producing cells with enough oxygen to respond to blood glucose drops, MIT scientists devised a way to split water vapor in the body into its component parts, hydrogen and oxygen.

Oxygen then travels to the storage chamber in the device that nourishes transplanted insulin-producing cells, which can then respond immediately to increases in blood sugar levels.

The system that MIT researchers developed also negates the need for immunosuppressive drugs, which tame the body’s immune system so it doesn’t attack transplanted cells, believing them to be foreign invaders.

Some patients with diabetes have already received transplanted cells from human corpses that can control diabetes. But immunosuppressive medications that prevent the body from rejecting the implanted cells must be taken at the same time.

The device that MIT scientists developed was no bigger than a quarter in size and was implanted just under the skin in diabetic mice with a fully functional immune system.

One group of mice received the implant with the water vapor splitting membrane. The other group received a device with transplanted islet cells without any supplemental oxygen to maintain the production of those cells.

Mice given the implant maintained normal blood sugar levels compared to healthy animals, while mice given the device became hyperglycemic – or elevated blood sugar – within about two weeks.

The small device requires no wires or batteries and only a small voltage of about two volts, generated by a phenomenon known as ‘resonant inductive coupling’.

A tuned magnetic coil outside the body – which can be worn as a patch on the skin – sends current to a small, flexible antenna inside the device, allowing wireless power transfer.

Dr. Anderson said his team was excited about the progress the device has made, adding, “we’re really optimistic that this technology can ultimately help patients.”

When a medical device is implanted into the body, immune system attacks typically lead to a buildup of scar tissue called fibrosis, which can reduce a device’s effectiveness.

This scar tissue formed around the implants used in the study, but the device’s success in controlling blood sugar levels suggests that insulin could still diffuse out of the device and glucose could diffuse into it.

This newly developed approach could also be used to deliver cells that produce other types of proteins that need to be delivered over longer periods of time. The MIT researchers have shown that their device can also keep alive cells that produce erythropoietin – a protein that stimulates the production of red blood cells. .

Dr. Anderson said: ‘We are optimistic that it will be possible to create living medical devices that can reside in the body and produce medicines where necessary. There are several diseases that require patients to ingest exogenous proteins; sometimes very often.

“If we can replace the need for infusions every other week with a single implant that can work for a long time, I think it could help a lot of patients.”

The researchers now plan to test the device on larger animals and eventually on humans.

MIT research scientist Siddharth Krishnan, lead author of the study, added: ‘The materials we used are inherently stable and long-lived, so I think this kind of long-term operation is possible. what we’re working on.’

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