As stated by Dr Zhen Gu - senior author of a paper on the research and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill - "this is hopefully a big step towards giving diabetics a more painless method of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels."
Essentially the technique involves injecting bio-compatible and biodegradable nanoparticles into a patient's skin. The nanoparticles are made-out of poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid (PLGA) and are filled with insulin. Each of the PLGA nanoparticles is given either a positively charged coating made of chitosan or a negatively charged coating made of alginate. Please Note chitosan is a bio-compatible material normally found in shrimp shells and alginate is a bio-compatible material normally found in seaweed. Subsequently when the solution of coated nanoparticles is mixed together, the positively and negatively charged coatings are attracted to each other by electrostatic force to form an innovative "nano-network". Once injected into the layer of the skin, the nano-network holds the nanoparticles together and prevents them from easily dispersing throughout the body.
Also, the coated PLGA nanoparticles are porous, and once in the body, the insulin begins to diffuse from the nanoparticles. However, the bulk of the insulin does not stray far - it is suspended in a de facto reservoir in the layer of the skin by the eletrostatic force of the nano-network. This arrangement means that it creates a dose of insulin which is simply waiting to be delivered into the bloodstream.
Typically when a patient has Type 1 or advanced Type 2 diabetes, his or her body needs additional insulin. Insulin is a hormone that transports glucose (or blood sugar) from the bloodstream into the body's cells. Diabetes patients must inject insulin as needed to maintain the blood sugar level in the "normal" range. However, such injections can be extremely painful.
Employing the new technology developed by Gu's team - a diabetes patient does not have to inject a dose of insulin, effectively it's already there. Alternatively, patients can employ a small, hand-held device to apply focused ultrasound waves to the site of the nano-network, and thereafter painlessly releasing the insulin from its de facto reservoir into the bloodstream.
The researchers believe the technique works, because the ultrasound waves excite microscopic gas bubbles in the tissue - temporarily disrupting the nano-network in the layer of the skin. Such disruption pushes the nanoparticles apart, relaxing the electrostatic force being exerted on the insulin in the reservoir. This enables the insulin to begin entering into the bloodstream - a process made more efficient/hastened by the effect of the ultrasound waves pushing on the insulin.
As stated by Dr Yun Jing - an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at NC State and co-corresponding author of the paper - "we know this technique works, and we think this is how it works, but we are still trying to determine the precise details."
Once the ultrasound is removed, the electrostatic force reverts itself and pulls the nanoparticles in the nano-network back together. The nanoparticles then diffuse more insulin, essentially refilling the reservoir. As stated by Gu - "we've done proof-of-concept testing in laboratory mice with Type 1 diabetes," - and "we found that this technique achieves a quick release of insulin into the bloodstream, and that the nano-network contains enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels for up to 10 days." Original article available here
DCN Corp finds that the above research provides a another spin on the nano-technology theranostic concept. In doing so, and if you and/or your colleagues are interested in making such a treatment methodology reality - please ensure to contact the company as soon as practicably possible.