How a Nanotech Platform Could Let Diabetics Skip Insulin Injections

A small ultrasound device could painlessly deliver insulin, potentially giving type-1 diabetics an alternative to giving themselves several insulin injections daily. Developed by researchers at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill, the technology uses nanoparticles made from poly(lactic-co-glycolic) acid that contain insulin within them.

The scientists coaxed the particles to form a “nano-network” that helps control the release of insulin. They accomplished this feat by coating a portion of the nanoparticles with chitosan and alginate, which have a positive and negative charge, respectively. The network can then be deployed subcutaneously, creating a reservoir of insulin in the body that can released using focused ultrasound from a hand-held device.

In a study on mice with type-1 diabetes, the researchers were able deliver sufficient insulin to control blood glucose for as many as 10 days. The researchers speculate that the technology could be used to let type-1 and advanced type-2diabeticsto dramatically reduce their need for insulin shots—potentially going days without them.

PLGA is one of the most popular biodegradable polymers among researchers and has been cleared for use by the FDA and European regulatory bodies for use in drug delivery applications. PLGA-based nanoparticles have been investigated for use as a drug-delivery platform for vaccines, as a cancer immunotherapeutic, for chemotherapy, and for non-invasive molecular imaging systems for detecting cancer.

A Nanotech Cancer Platform

Nanotechnology-based treatments are also growing in popularity in treating a variety of diseases. One recent example was developed by UCLA’s Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center to target pancreatic cancer. Their strategy in treating the condition bears a resemblance to the insulin platform described above in that two types of nanoparticleswere used. In this case, however, one type of nanoparticle forges a path into tumor cells while the other deploys a payload of a chemotherapeutic agent. This platform was developed by UCLA nanomedicine professor Andre Nel and Huan Meng, a UCLA adjunct assistant professor of nanomedicine.

Brian Buntz is the editor-in-chief of MPMN. Follow him on Twitter at @brian_buntz and Google+.

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