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Published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) journal, new findings suggest that 'smart' insulins could be developed. Doctors hope that this will change the management and treatment of diabetic patients.
Smart insulins, which are currently undergoing trials, could replace the need for repeated blood tests and injections to maintain a healthy blood sugar level. Instead, a single dose of the new insulin would stay in the body's bloodstream and become activated when it was needed.
Previous studies in the laboratory has shown that the technology can work, with human trials planned for the future. However, it could take years for the treatment to reach patients.
People with type 1 diabetes can suffer problems because insulin has made their blood sugar levels drop too low, meaning they constantly need to check their blood glucose levels. This has led to many researchers looking into potential new ways for diabetics to control their sugar levels.
There are a number of types of smart insulins in development, but they are designed to only activate themselves when they are needed.
Dr Danny Chou, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has part of the team responsible for testing the technology, which has been chemically modified to last longer than regular insulin. This longevity is caused by the addition of an extra set of molecules at either end of the proteins that circulate in the bloodstream.
When these are attached, the smart insulin is deactivated, but when the blood sugar rises the glucose locks on to it and the smart insulin is switched on.
Dr Chou called it an important advance in insulin therapy, with it aiming to make treatment easier and safer for diabetics.
Karen Addington, chief executive of JDRF in the UK, which has funded research into smart insulins, said: "For many people living with type 1 diabetes, achieving good blood glucose control is a daily battle. Taking too much insulin can drive someone's glucose levels too low, leading to a 'hypo', while taking too little means glucose levels rise too high, which can have a serious cumulative health impact in the long term."
Written by Angela Newbury
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