Diabetes is a disease that affects an estimated one million people or more in the United states alone. It’s a disease that’s characterized by the body’s inability to make, process or use insulin sufficiently. Diabetes can affect just about anyone but there are risk factors that make some more susceptible than others. By far obesity is the biggest risk factor, followed by a family history of the disease. Blood glucose or sugar is what the body uses for energy, insulin is the hormone that helps to convert the glucose into energy for use in other parts of the body. It is created in the pancreas, which uses consumed food to create insulin. When the pancreas is unable to convert the glucose for use by the body, it stays in the blood stream and builds up causing other health issues.
There are two main types of diabetes: Type I and Type II. Both are different in the way that they affect the body and the ways in which they’re treated. In Type I diabetes the body cannot create insulin because the immune system of the body will attack the cells in the pancreas that are responsible for that task. This is the form of diabetes that is most commonly found in children and young adults. Treatment for this type is taking daily insulin shots as well as strict dietary management and monitoring of blood glucose levels.
Type II diabetes is usually diagnosed in adults of middle age, but can also be found in children and is often brought on by obesity. While the pancreas in type II diabetes can sometimes make insulin, it may not make enough or the body will not use what is made efficiently.
With diabetes comes a lot of risk factors for developing other disease and disorders. Because the main cause of Type II diabetes is obesity, maintaining a healthy balanced diet and proper exercise, as well as consistent monitoring of glucose levels is key to lowering risk factors. Those with diabetes are more at risk for stroke, heart disease, kidney disease and developing, eye, dental, nerve and foot problems.
Insulin Production and use in Diabetes.
The pancreas is the home of cells known as Beta Cells, these cells create, store and secrete insulin in response to elevated glucose levels in the body. When the body has an higher than normal glucose level, beta cells spring into action secreting insulin where it’s needed. They also start production of new insulin. Additionally beta cells also secrete the amylin and C-peptide an insulin production by product. These two are important to the process because amylin will slow the rate of glucose that enters the bloodstream while c-peptide prevents vascular complications, both are excreted into the bloodstream at the same rate as insulin. This is what is supposed to happen in any case.
At the onset Type I diabetes, the pancreas will increase its production of insulin in an attempt to combat the rapidly rising glucose levels of the body. The immune system however will attack the beta cells believing them to be invaders, the beta cells will then be completely destroyed and because the pancreas is the only part of the body to house beta cells, it leaves the body unable to produce insulin.
In Type II diabetes, the beta cells go into overdrive at the onset of the disease and will produce a lot of insulin to counteract high glucose levels this is why Type II is characterized by not only high glucose levels, but high insulin levels as well. The problem is that outside of the pancreas which converts glucose, the tissues of the body are resistant to pure insulin and is therefore unable to use it, when this happens the body will experience insulin overdose.
Because of the high rate of insulin production, over time the beta cells weaken and will either die off or start producing much less insulin, when this happens the patient will develop Type I diabetes and will need to take insulin in order to keep glucose levels normal. Although beta cells do not have a backup system in the body, everyone born with extra beta cells that don’t become active until the onset of diabetes. The unfortunate side effect of this is that the extra beta cells seem to contribute to the beta cell exhaustion that happens with the onset of the disease because of peripheral insulin resistance that happens when the non pancreatic tissue of the body can’t use the extra insulin produced.
What the Patch is and How it Works
The Smart Insulin Patch is a dime sized patch that was developed by Zhen Gu an associate professor of the Joint Department of Bioengineering at UNC Chapel Hill. The patch in its current state has microneedles on the skin side that are smaller in diameter than a human hair. filled with insulin and glucose oxidase and would release insulin in the body as needed. But how will the patch know when insulin is needed? The microneedles on the patch contain both insulin and glucose oxidase, an enzyme which can detect high levels of glucose and helps the body to release insulin in response.
The idea of the patch is not only one of convenience, but it will also eliminate the need for constant blood monitoring and the use of needles to test blood glucose levels. It will also eliminate the worry for many patients of insulin dosing. It is not uncommon for accidents to happen with dosing when a patient changes syringe types, or when blood glucose levels rise or fall precipitously causing cognitive impairments.
It presents an even more attractive alternative for elderly diabetic patients that may be suffering from dementia, blindness or side effects from a stroke or degenerative disorder, or for very young children that may resist taking insulin shots. The working theory is that with assistance with a basal shot first thing in the morning, these patients can eat and not have to worry about a spike in their blood glucose levels necessitating a shot they may not be able to give themselves.
While the Smart Patch seems to have many great benefits to offset rising glucose levels, the jury is still out on whether or not it can do enough for falling levels of glucose. An issue of leaking glucose while administering also needs to be looked at so because this can lead to hypoglycemia in patients. There also needs to be addressed the issue of how differing levels a needs of patients will be assessed and met by the patch and researchers are currently looking into ways of which a patient’s sensitivity can be fine tuned the way it s with a pen or pump.
Although the research and development of the Smart Patch has been met with excitement from the medical and scientific community, it’s an excitement that it tempered by caution. There are many applications in the pipeline that could benefit from the development of such a tool, but human trials and FDA approval are years off. But, barring significant complications that extend the testing process, the future of the Smart Patch insulin delivery system is looking very bright.