Diabetes research breakthroughs ahead of World Health Day
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Individuals with diabetes are forced to endure a much larger financial burden to support a normal state of health than their peers without the condition, as well as the health systems and national economies they live in through the loss of work and wages and direct medical costs. Today, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 9.3 percent (approximately 29.1 million people) of the U.S. population is diagnosed with diabetes, with a further 21 people who are undiagnosed.
As diabetes rates have ballooned in recent decades, a wealth of new research and quality of life medical products have emerged that could have a considerable impact on the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Google's watch-based glucose monitor
In late 2015, Google filed a patent for a smartwatch that can measure blood glucose levels without the use of needles, which can help individuals with diabetes check their levels more easily throughout the day. While Google is keeping major details close to the vest, the diagrams associated with the patent appear to be a small tube that is stored in the watch, which is placed on the finger and a small "abrupt surge" of gas is sent into the barrel containing a microparticle, which can painlessly puncture the skin and remove a small amount of blood. It remains to be seen when this technology will hit the market, but it could finally be the alternative to the traditional needle and test strip combination.
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Digital memory function for insulin injections
It's a simple fact of human psychology that performing the same actions daily can make it harder to recall them, and this can be potentially dangerous in regards to insulin injections. Irregular blood glucose levels can lead to major health issues, including hypoglycemia, hyperglycemia, or diabetic ketoacidosis, so keeping proper track of insulin injections is vital.
A new innovation called Timesulin could change that - this insulin pen accessory contains a built-in timer that will keep track of time between injections after it's been clicked. Best of all, it can snap onto the vast majority of common insulin pens to instantly improve their utility.
Smart insulin patch
In mid-2015, researchers at the University of North Carolina and NC State developed a new type of insulin delivery system called a "smart insulin patch." The patch, which is about the size of a penny, consists of more than 100 tiny needles, which act as microscopic storage units for glucose-sensing enzymes. If blood sugar levels get too high, insulin is released from the patch to regulate these levels.
While it is still in clinical trials, a study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that the patch could lower blood glucose in a type 1 diabetes mouse model for up to 9 hours.
Artificially-created pancreatic cells
The pancreas performs the vital duty of producing hormones, such as insulin and glucagon, that regulate the balance of sugar and salt in the body, and diabetes is the most common disorder that disrupts this production. Scientists at Gladstone Institutes and the University of California made a major breakthrough in early 2016, as they cultured fully-functioning pancreatic cells, which could potentially mean the end of daily insulin injections for diabetes sufferers.
The study, which was published in Nature Communications, detailed how the scientists reprogrammed common skin cells into endoderm progenitor cells, which can mature into a number of different organ cells like brain, liver and heart cells. This time, the scientists managed to mature these cells into fully-functioning pancreatic beta cells, which produce insulin on their own in the same way as an individual without diabetes. This breakthrough could lead to cells being generated to suit thousands of different patients based on the severity of their illnesses.
In addition to breakthroughs in direct cellular reprogramming, a promising, long-term clinical trial is slated to begin in the beginning of 2016 that will test the efficacy of an artificial pancreas in 240 patients with type 1 diabetes in the U.S. and Europe. The artificial pancreas is a wearable system developed by the University of Virginia and Harvard University that detects changes in the body to predict and adjust blood sugar levels on its own.
The device uses a traditional insulin pump and a blood sugar monitor with a wire sensor, both of which are placed under the skin. This setup communicates with a smartphone with software that determines how much insulin is needed based on food intake, activity, sleep cycles and metabolism. It remains to be seen if this will be effective due to the unpredictable nature of the human body, but it is one of the most promising breakthroughs in insulin delivery in decades.
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