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New in-body sensor could monitor and regulate insulin levels in real-time

Researchers at Stanford University have designed a dynamic real-time biosensor that could one day continuously detect and maintain optimal levels of drugs like insulin.

Health monitoring via in-body sensors is one of the hot areas of current research. This particular technology, which accounts for individual variability in the response to drugs, may allow more effective use of insulin for people with type 1 diabetes.

This would effectively take other technologies integrated in artificial pancreas systems, like TypeZero’s inControl platform, to the next level. Those control solutions only make suggestions on corrections to insulin management.

Tom Soh, a Stanford electrical engineer, and his postdoc fellow, Peter Mage, developed a three component model of the new in-body sensor, which resembles a thin rectangular microchip.

It consists of a biosensor which detects active levels of a drug in the bloodstream, paired with a controller that calculates exactly the right dose to maintain and a programmable pump acting as a delivery man that releases just that amount.

The sensor part forms a complex of molecules, called aptamers, that have been specially designed by Soh to bind receptors of any drug of interest, in the same fashion as seats on a bus that have to be filled.

As a drug enters in contact with a receptor site, the aptamers change shape and send an electric signal, in response to which the pump technology loads or unloads more or less of the drug if and when a seat is empty.

It essentially behaves as a closed-loop system, one that monitors and adjusts continuously. Soh and Mage first began testing it by administering a chemotherapy drug, called doxorubicin, in animals.

Many years of tests still lie ahead, but the first animal experiments yielded encouraging results. The researchers were able to stabilise levels of the chemotherapy drug, even when deliberately introducing a second drug that is known to change its effects.

Provided that it works as well in humans, this mode of delivery, described in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering, could be applied to so many drugs and areas of health, including the diabetes field.

In a not too distant future, it could perhaps enable people with type 1 diabetes to better use insulin to prevent dangerous spikes or dips in blood sugar levels.

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Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common long-term health conditions
Type 2 diabetes is one of the most common long-term health conditions

Type 2 diabetes mellitus is a metabolic disorder that results in hyperglycemia (high blood glucose levels) due to the body:

  • Being ineffective at using the insulin it has produced; also known as insulin resistance and/or
  • Being unable to produce enough insulin

Type 2 diabetes is characterised by the body being unable to metabolise glucose (a simple sugar). This leads to high levels of blood glucose which over time may damage the organs of the body.

From this, it can be understood that for someone with diabetes something that is food for ordinary people can become a sort of metabolic poison.

This is why people with diabetes are advised to avoid sources of dietary sugar.

The good news is for very many people with type 2 diabetes this is all they have to do to stay well. If you can keep your blood sugar lower by avoiding dietary sugar, likely you will never need long-term medication.

Type 2 diabetes was formerly known as non-insulin-dependent or adult-onset diabetes due to its occurrence mainly in people over 40. However, type 2 diabetes is now becoming more common in young adults, teens and children and accounts for roughly 90% of all diabetes cases worldwide.

How serious is type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes is a serious medical condition that often requires the use of anti-diabetic medication, or insulin to keep blood sugar levels under control. However, the development of type 2 diabetes and its side effects (complications) can be prevented if detected and treated at an early stage.

In recent years, it has become apparent that many people with type 2 diabetes are able to reverse diabetes through methods including low-carb diets, very-low-calorie diets and exercise.

For guidance on healthy eating to improve blood glucose levels and weight and to fight back against insulin resistance, join the Low Carb Program.

Following pre-diabetes or metabolic disorder, type 2 diabetes can potentially be avoided through diet and exercise.

What causes type 2 diabetes?

Type 2 diabetes occurs when the hormone insulin is not used effectively by the cells in your body. Insulin is needed for cells to take in glucose (sugar) from the bloodstream and convert it into energy.

Ineffective use of insulin results in the body becoming resistant to insulin – also known as insulin resistance, which in turn causes blood sugar levels to rise (hyperglycemia).

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