Pump Technology and Microneedle Technology Means Improved Diabetes Management
Just five days after JDRF announced it's partnership with Animas to develop the Artificial Pancreas, another announcement was made on a partnership with Becton, Dickinson and Company, also known as BD, to develop microneedles.
Everyone living with type 1 diabetes requires a needle for the delivery of insulin. Some people use pens and syringes, but many people use an insulin pump. For those of us who have used a pump, we will tell you that often the needle sites are sore and frequently there is an infusion set malfunction, like a kink in the tubing, leaks, or a bend in the canula. It's not serious, but it's frustrating to catch, because insulin delivery is our lifeline! With the announcement of microneedles comes an interesting breakthrough in diabetes technology.
So, what is microneedle technology?
Microneedle technology is not something that was developed for diabetes; it was developed for vaccines to reduce pain and increase efficiency of absorption. BD has been working on microneedle technology for a few years with the military, and through their preclinical use of anthrax vaccines, they found they could have other applications for it, which included HIV, cancer and diabetes.
Microneedles are roughly 1-2 mm in length, so they inject just under the skin. This is called "intradermal delivery." What we already know is that insulin uptake is much faster when released just below the skin; in other words, insulin can work much more quickly than the current standard. For the future of the Artificial Pancreas, the microneedle is a key piece to help it become completely automated! The speed of insulin action could be improved not by the insulin, but by the length of the needle.
The microneedle technology will probably not take as long to go through the hoops for approval from the FDA, but it is a good bet to say it will be at least 3-4 years before we see it on the market. However, this announcement from BD coupled with the announcement of the Artificial Pancreas and Animas is a sign of significant change in the long-term management of diabetes. While Animas and BD have been the first to step up to the plate to work on these important elements, other companies are in the wings.
Two years ago, I gave speech and said that I had hoped the Artificial Pancreas would help end diabetes complications and allow researchers to focus on a cure. In a long view of diabetes research, what researchers know is that they can regenerate islets cells in mice, but it takes stable blood sugars to allow the transplant to be successful and the body to function like that of any other human being. If the Artificial Pancreas becomes fully automated, then sustained normal blood sugars will be possible... and if the regeneration of islet cells works in humans, this could lead to one type of cure!