CHAPEL HILL, N.C., March 14 (UPI) -- Scientists designed a patch that delivers insulin producing beta cells when the body needs them, which may eliminate the need for diabetes patients to inject insulin or expose themselves to the risks of doing so, according to a new study.
The smart cell patch is a painless, quarter-sized square patch both type 1 and type 2 diabetes patients can wear that quickly responds to rising blood sugar levels and can control them for about 10 hours at a time.
Diabetes is caused by beta cells in the pancreas being unable to produce insulin. Although some patients who have received transplants of the cells have done well, including one last year in a clinical trial, many either experience side effects or the cells are rejected by their immune systems. Most people with diabetes manage the disease by self-monitoring blood sugar levels and controlling them with insulin injections.
The new patch is the next step from the same research team's smart insulin patch, which delivered synthetic insulin, but was not responsive to the body and didn't solve the problem of dosing.
The goal, scientists said, was to find a way allow beta cells to judge the blood stream but make it impossible for them to be attacked by the immune system.
"This study provides a potential solution for the tough problem of rejection, which has long plagued studies on pancreatic cell transplants for diabetes," Dr. Zhen Gu, an assistant professor at the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University, said in a press release. "Plus it demonstrates that we can build a bridge between the physiological signals within the body and these therapeutic cells outside the body to keep glucose levels under control."
For the study, published in the journal Advanced Materials, using the basic design of the previous patch, scientists filled microneedles on the patch with beta cells and culture media, adding chemicals to help beta cells "hear" rising blood sugar levels and respond.
In trials with mice, blood sugar levels in diabetic mice dropped to normal levels quickly after receiving a patch, and a second patch did not result in excess insulin doses -- instead allowing the patches to last about 20 hours.
The scientists said the patches will need to be developed further, and tested with humans, before becoming available.