Bioengineers from UCLA in conjunction with researchers from MIT and the UNC School of Medicine have made significant strides in creating a smart patch capable of delivering insulin to patients directly through their skin.
Although this technology has a ways to go before becoming available to the public, engineers have taken important steps to turn this dream into a reality.
The patch, which is roughly the size of a quarter and adheres to the skin of the patient, is designed to monitor and manage the glucose levels of a user. When needed, the patch will dispense the correct insulin dosage in response to certain biomedical indicators.
“Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes. This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check one’s blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it’s needed. It mimics the regulatory function of the pancreas but in a way that’s easy to use.”Zhen Gu, former professor in the UNC/NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering
How the Smart Patch Works
When fully functional, the patch will be able to closely monitor the blood sugar levels of the wearer. The patch will come pre-loaded with insulin doses, which are housed in micro-needles. These needles are less than one-millimeter long, but possess the capacity to quickly deliver insulin when blood sugar levels change. As the levels normalize, so to will the patch reduce the amount of medication being delivered. In this way, researchers hope to stabilize the glucose levels of those suffering from diabetes.
The micro-needles that provide the insulin are made with a glucose-sensing polymer. This polymer is housed inside the insulin; when the micro-needles penetrate the skin, they can determine the blood sugar levels of a patient. As the glucose levels rise and fall, the polymer will be triggered to release the appropriate amount of insulin. Besides providing a faster and more effective way to transmit medication, experts hope these patches will prove far less painful than the traditional needles used to provide people with insulin.
Progressing toward Patient Use
Since animal testing of the smart micro-needle patch was proven successful, the technology has been accepted into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Emerging Technology Program, which provides assistance to companies during the regulatory process. Pending FDA approval, the next step will involve human research trials. Should that go smoothly, these little patches could make a big impact on the lives of diabetes patients everywhere.