Researchers from the University of North Carolina and North Carolina State University have developed artificial beta cells that can release insulin in response to rising glucose levels in the blood stream. The technology could be used to treat diabetes through subcutaneous injections of the cells into patients, or gradual delivery using a skin patch.
The idea is that the cells could replace the repeated and painful insulin injections that patients with diabetes currently have to self-administer, by mimicking the beta cells in the pancreas. The research team wanted a solution that could control glucose levels in a more responsive and less invasive way.
The artificial cells are encased by a two-layered lipid membrane, just like a natural cell. However, they contain small vesicles packed with insulin. When levels of glucose in the blood increase, a chemical change in the vesicles causes them to fuse with the outer membrane of the artificial cell and release the insulin into the blood stream
Impressively, a single injection of the artificial cells into diabetic mice with no beta cells of their own, caused their blood glucose levels to rapidly normalize. “The mice went from hyperglycemic to normoglycemic within an hour, and they remained normoglycemic for up to five days after that,” said Zhen Gu, a researcher involved in the study.
The team has more animal tests planned and wants to develop a way to deliver the cells painlessly using a replaceable skin patch. “Our plan now is 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.
Study in Nature Chemical Biology: Synthetic beta cells for fusion-mediated dynamic insulin secretion…