Painless Skin Patch Could Eliminate Insulin Injections and Finger Pricks

Painless Skin Patch Could Eliminate Insulin Injections and Finger Pricks

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For millions of people who live with Type 2 diabetes, the symptoms and threats of the disease are only a part of their daily struggles. Insulin injections and finger pricks are also part of daily the equation. But what if they didn’t have to be?

That’s the question being posed by a team of researchers at the NIH’s National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), who are at work on a new patch that can painlessly monitor and regulate blood sugar for days at a time.

“Diabetes is a very serious disease and affects a lot of people. Everybody is looking for a long-acting formula,” said Xiaoyuan (Shawn) Chen, a senior investigator in the Laboratory of Molecular Imaging and Nanomedicine, who led a team of NIBIB researchers in a proof-of-concept study using the patch on mice. The study was published Novevember 24, 2017, in the journal Nature Communications.

Defining the need

An estimated 30.3 million people in the U.S. live with diabetes, with 95% of those cases being Type 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The American Diabetes Association lists hypertension, stroke, kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputations as some of the primary complications of the disease, and it remains the seventh leading cause of death in the country. In addition, NIH researchers note that half of all cases are not well-managed.

People with Type 1 diabetes cannot produce insulin, the pancreas-produced hormone that helps move glucose from food out of the bloodstream and into cells where it can be converted into energy or stored. Those with Type 2 diabetes, however, are still able to produce the hormone, albeit in progressively lower amounts. That’s why the NIBIB researchers went looking for an alternative therapy — the patch — which can take advantage of this production ability by delivering biochemical particles that stimulate or curb the body’s own insulin production, as needed. The potential result is huge, minimizing pain and hassle associated with the disease and maximizing accurate treatment.

“A weekly microneedle patch application would be less complicated and painful than routines that require frequent blood testing,” said NIBIB Scientific Director Richard Leapman.

Artist's rendering of the microneedle patch.

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Artist’s rendering of the microneedle patch. Image courtesy of NIBIB.