Imagine having to self-administer medication with a needle multiple times a day. This is a reality for diabetics that have to regularly inject insulin. Diabetes currently affects over 387 million people worldwide, and that number is projected to reach 592 million by 2035. Researchers recently made some headway that could create a break in the insulin injection cycle. Scientists at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University developed a “smart” insulin patch that could make painful injections a thing of the past. The tiny penny-sized patch contains over 100 needles, but the needles are each the size of an eyelash and can painlessly deliver insulin. The needles also contain glucose-sensing enzymes that are released when blood sugar levels spike.
The patch worked well in a study of mice with type 1 diabetes, and researchers hope to mirror those positive results in human trials. The patch lowered blood glucose levels in mice for up to nine hours, but since humans are more sensitive to insulin than mice, the patch could last longer for humans.
The patch is “smart” because it can be personalized to the patient based on their weight and sensitivity to insulin. Injecting the wrong amount of medication can cause serious problems anywhere from limb amputation to comas to death. The “smart” patch could reduce the risk of human error and improve the accuracy of medication delivery. Researchers can also customize the patch to only alter blood glucose levels within a certain range. When administered too frequently, insulin injections can cause blood sugar levels to lower at a dangerous rate, so the customized patches would alleviate this problem.