Nanotechnology is the manipulation of atomic and molecular matter. In medical research, nanotechnology has begun to show many possibilities – from helping to revolutionize drug delivery, diagnostics and gene therapy.
In Greek, nano means "dwarf." And, in science, that means it’s really, really small, like a billionth of something. In medicine, the nanoscale is like a microscope inside a microscope. And, in medicine, nanos could mean they handle, or manipulate cells, viruses, or DNA through tiny tools, robots and tubes.
In diabetes, nanotechnology is being explored to help create different aspects of diabetes management. From glucose sensing technology to reduce the need for blood glucose monitors, to robots that can transport insulin. The technology is complex, but really fascinating.
Who would have thought in 1921, when Banting, Best and MacLeod were discovering insulin, that an American university, known for its strong engineering curriculum, would eventually reach into medicine and bring to life some extraordinary concepts that will change the landscape of diabetes management and cure therapies? Would Banting have ever thought it possible that a technology would be able to carry insulin, housed in the human body in a microscopic device?
MIT has some mind blowing inventors, that’s for sure A few years ago, Todd Zion shared with the world his concept of a polymer-based insulin called SmartInsulin. SmartInsulin was sold to Merck in 2010. A few weeks ago, MIT announced another diabetes nanotechnology innovation that holds promise, and is set up to compete with the external device concept of the artificial pancreas.
This idea is focused on the extended release of insulin. Lead author of the paper, Zhen Gu, worked on a gel-like structure that is similar to toothpaste to house the insulin. The gel contains a polysaccharide called dextran that is sensitive to acidity. Each nanoparticle contains spheres of dextran which use an enzyme that converts glucose into gluconic acid, so when blood glucose levels are high, the enzyme produces large quantities of a gluconic acid and the dextran spheres disintegrate and release insulin into the body.
Researchers found that mice injected with the gel maintained normal blood sugar levels for an average of 10 days. I’ll take that over MDI!
Still, there are some wrinkles to work out, like the speed of the release of insulin and optimized dosing, but this does reflect the biotech’s interest in diabetes, and the future of what diabetes management could look like a few years down the road.