How “smart” insulin can revolutionize Type 1 Diabetes treatment

Type 1 Diabetes (T1D) develops when the patients’ immune system attacks and destroys pancreatic beta cells, the only cells that can make the hormone insulin. Over one million individuals in the U.S. are affected by T1D, and there are approximately 100,000 new cases annually.

Insulin injections are the most common treatment methods, while alternative approaches such as transplantation or immune therapies are being studied. However, another promising treatment to consider is “smart” insulin, or glucose-responsive insulin, which could supplant more invasive traditional procedures and ensure ideal glucose control for patients every day.

Zhiqiang Cao, associate professor of chemical engineering, leads a research team that has been awarded nearly $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Cao’s group is developing an implantable technology with glucose-responsive insulin release and long-term therapeutic capabilities. It adjusts the dose of working insulin as needed, similar to a healthy pancreas. Compared with even the most state-of-the-art methods, this technology shows a superior capability to achieve insulin independence for T1D patients.

“The formulation is expected to function for weeks-long after administration, or even longer depending on the dose, and is retrievable and replaceable to extend the therapeutics for an even longer period of time,” said Cao.

Cao believes this technology is the next milestone for smart insulin development, significantly improving the life of T1D patients by offering long-term blood glucose control.

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