Chen’s team used patches made of a natural gummy substance extracted from brown algae, mixed with two drug compounds — exendin-4 and glucose oxidase — and poured into a microneedle form. The compounds respond to the patch-wearer’s blood chemistry to trigger insulin secretion when needed. But as glucose levels fall, so does the compound release, thanks to stabilizing phosphate mineral compounds paired with each of the drug compounds.
“That’s why we call it responsive, or smart, release,” said Chen. “Most current approaches involve constant release. Our approach creates a wave of fast release when needed and then slows or even stops the release when the glucose level is stable.”
In mice, the team proved that a half-inch square patch controlled sugar levels for a week. For the device to work on humans, it will need to have greater therapeutic capacity and be altered for application to human skin.
“We would need to scale up the size of the patch and optimize the length, shape, and morphology of the needles,” Chen said. “Also, the patch needs to be compatible with daily life, for instance allowing for showering or sweating.”
Want to learn more about new technology being developed to monitor blood sugar levels? Watch the video “Diabetes and Technology.”
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