Researchers use modified insulin cells to regulate blood sugar levels

by Barbara Hewitt on May 11, 2017

Researchers in the United States have developed a new technique that uses modified insulin and red blood cells to regulate blood sugar levels in type 1 diabetes.

They have created a glucose responsive smart insulin delivery system that effectively reduced blood sugar levels for 48 hours in a strain of mice that had type 1 diabetes.

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The researchers modified insulin by chemically binding it to a glucose derivative called glucosamine. The glucosamine could then bind to glucose transporters on the surface of a red blood cell, effectively attaching the insulin to the blood cell.

The end result is a red blood cell studded with insulin molecules and the idea is that these insulin loaded blood cells could then be injected into a diabetic patient and once in the bloodstream, the blood cells carrying insulin interact with their environment.

This means that if glucose levels are high, glucose molecules effectively displace the glucosamine in the blood cells’ glucose transporters. And when the glucosamine is set free from the blood cell, so is the insulin. The insulin can then bind to insulin receptors in the liver, muscles and fatty tissues, triggering a process that reduces glucose levels in the blood.

‘In short, this is a fully biocompatible smart system that responds, when needed, to normalise glucose levels in the blood,’ said Zhen Gu, co-author and an associate professor in the joint biomedical engineering programme at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

In the study, researchers compared mice receiving the modified insulin and blood cell system to three other groups, one that received saline solution, one that got only modified insulin and one that got a mixture of unmodified insulin and red blood cells.

The researchers found that the type I diabetic mice that received the modified insulin and blood cell system were able to significantly reduce blood glucose levels for more than two days. The best performance among the other groups saw an initial dip in blood sugar levels, but returned to high glucose levels within 12 hours.

The researchers also tested each of the drug combinations in a group of healthy mice, and found that the modified insulin and blood cell system reduced the risk of hypoglycaemia compared to the other drug combinations.

In addition, the researchers conducted an experiment in the type I diabetic mice using modified insulin and nanoparticles that had been coated with red blood cell membranes. The modified insulin and nanoparticle system achieved comparable results to those found using modified insulin and red blood cells.

‘This is a positive result, because it bodes well for developing a standardized means of delivering this glucose regulation system,’ Gu explained.

The team will now go on to further evaluate the long term biocompatibility of the modified insulin system in an animal model before determining whether to move to clinical trials. The vision, if realised, would be one of the most exciting advances in diabetes care, according to Dr. John Buse, professor of medicine at the UNC School of Medicine and director of the UNC Diabetes Care Centre and the NC Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute.

Gu added that the team is also exploring the use of painless microneedles to deliver this system, rather than relying on the conventional injections which were used in the study. ‘The possibility of using a different drug delivery system makes it difficult to assess cost, but we’re optimistic that the cost of the potential formulation would be comparable to existing treatments,’ he said.


The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of the DiabetesForum.com Community and should not be interpreted as medical advice. Please see your doctor before making any changes to your diabetes management plan.

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