Adamantium for diabetics: Scientists create smart insulin


Smart insulin that detects and adjusts rising blood sugar levels for a period of 14 hours has been developed by a team of researchers from the University of Utah School of Medicine in Salt Lake City, led by assistant professor Danny Chou. “Basically, we put a ‘glucose sensor’ on the regular insulin molecule so that the modified insulin could sense glucose,” said Chou, who wrote the study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. We hope that smart insulin could reduce the burden for people with diabetes by decreasing the frequency of insulin injections and help them better manage blood glucose profiles to prevent short and long-term complications.

People with type 1 diabetes must constantly keep track of the blood sugar levels in order to determine whether they need to inject themselves with insulin, and if so, how much. Although blood glucose monitors and insulin pumps considerably simplify the measurement of blood sugar and the delivery of insulin, it is by no means an exact science. Like the original ending of Army of Darkness, drinking too much potion can lead to very serious consequences. For example, high glucose levels – a condition known as hyperglycemia – can result in heart disease, blindness and other complications. On the opposite end of the spectrum, hypoglycemia can lead to coma and death. “Our insulin derivative appears to control blood sugar better than anything that is available to diabetes patients right now,” Chou said. “My goal is to make life easier and safer for diabetics.

For example, the compound – labeled Ins-PBA-F – immediately lowered glucose levels in lab mice that had been given sugar. Moreover, this automatic decrease in glucose occurred every time the mice were given an amount of sugar equivalent to that consumed during meals, for a period of 14 hours after the insulin was administered. According to the researchers, this was a faster, longer-lasting effect than that of Levimir (detimir), the current long-acting insulin drug. Furthermore, the speed and chemical reactions of Ins-PBA-F in diabetic mice are the same as in healthy rodents that respond to changes in blood sugar with their own naturally-produced insulin. “A smart insulin would eliminate hypos - which are what many with type 1 diabetes hate most. It would enable people with type 1 diabetes to achieve near perfect glucose control, all from a single injection per day or even per week. That's really exciting,” chief executive of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) said. JDRF, the National Institutes of Health, and the Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Tayebati Family Foundation funded the study.

The researchers expect to begin human trials in 2-5 years, but predict that Ins-PBA-F will be safe to use daily. Unlike other similar products being developed at the time, it does not need a gel coating or protein barrier to contain the insulin when glucose is low. These products have potential side effects including an immune response. Ins-PBA-F, on the other hand, has a phenylboronic acid tail that binds insulin to circulating blood proteins that inhibit its effect until blood sugar rises, which activates the release of just the right amount of insulin – no more, no less. This also eliminates the human error associated with self-measurement and self- administration. “Ins-PBA-F fits the true definition of 'smart' insulin, where the insulin itself is glucose responsive. It is the first in its class,” Chou said. 

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