Saturday, 4 May 2013

Could Nanoparticles Help People With Type 1 Diabetes?

Living with type 1 diabetes can be a challenge. A new development in nanotechnology may greatly improve the quality of life for diabetics, however. Scientists at North Carolina State University, in cooperation with scientists from other institutions, have created an amazing nanoscale device that performs the function of a pancreas. Once this device is injected into the blood of mice, it monitors and adjusts their blood sugar level for as long as ten days.

In type 1 diabetes the pancreas makes little or no insulin. Insulin stimulates glucose to leave the blood and enter the body's cells, which use it for energy. Insulin can be given to diabetics via injection, but the person's blood glucose level (or blood sugar level) must be frequently monitored during the day. If the level is too high, the correct amount of insulin must be given so that the glucose enters cells. However, if the person receives too much insulin based on the amount of glucose currently in their blood, their blood glucose level will fall dramatically, which is a dangerous situation for the brain. Type and quantity of food, intensity and amount of exercise and other factors alter the blood sugar level during the day.

Symptoms of untreated diabetes -
public domain illustration by Mikael Haggstrom
at Wikimedia Commons
New ways of managing type 1 diabetes are badly needed. The new nanoscale device may be the answer. The device contains a network of dextran nanoparticles which surround insulin and enzyme molecules. The nanoparticle network is porous to glucose.

Once the device enters the blood. glucose passes through the nanoparticle network. The enzymes inside the network convert the glucose into gluconic acid. The gluconic acid then breaks down the dextran nanoparticles, allowing insulin to enter the blood.

In lab equipment, the researchers found that the amount of insulin that was released from the nanoparticle network depended on the glucose concentration in the blood. This is similar to the situation in people with a functioning pancreas. The pancreas releases varying amounts of insulin depending on the blood glucose level.

The scientists involved in this research are currently "in discussions" to test the technology in clinical trials on humans. The new technology could be a wonderful development for people with type 1 diabetes.

More details about the nanoparticle network can be found at the North Carolina State University Newsroom site.