Making Insulin Injections Obsolete: Scientists Implant a Device Inside Mice That Produces Its Own Insulin

Making Insulin Injections Obsolete: Scientists Implant a Device Inside Mice That Produces Its Own Insulin

Scientists at MIT have made a significant breakthrough in developing a medical device that could potentially eliminate the need for insulin injections. In a recent study, researchers implanted a device inside mice that produced its own supply of insulin for up to a month. Although further research is still needed before this technology can be used in humans, it offers hope for improving the treatment of diabetes.

Insulin is a hormone responsible for helping move glucose from the bloodstream to cells for energy. When the body’s insulin production is disrupted, it can lead to high blood sugar levels and the development of diabetes. Individuals with type 1 diabetes have an immune system that attacks the cells responsible for producing insulin, while those with type 2 diabetes develop a resistance to insulin’s effects.

Currently, people with diabetes need regular insulin injections to manage their blood sugar levels. While injectable insulin has revolutionized diabetes treatment, it is not without complications. Diabetics still face health risks and a shorter life expectancy, especially if they struggle to control their blood sugar. Therefore, researchers continue to explore ways to improve insulin administration.

One promising approach is islet cell transplantation, which involves using cells from a donor to restore natural insulin production. However, this procedure requires lifelong immune-suppressing drugs to prevent rejection. MIT researchers propose a different solution: housing the donated cells in a small device implanted under the skin. This device would protect the cells from the immune system while enabling them to produce insulin as needed.

In their recent study, published in the journal PNAS, the MIT team addressed the issue of oxygen supply to the implanted device. By incorporating a membrane that splits water molecules to produce oxygen, the device can ensure a constant supply of oxygen without the need for separate chambers or chemical mixtures. The device can also be wirelessly powered, requiring only a small patch on the skin.

The researchers tested the device on diabetic mice and found that those implanted with the oxygen-supplying device maintained healthy blood sugar levels for at least a month. In contrast, mice with a device lacking the ability to produce oxygen experienced high blood sugar within two weeks. Though scar tissue formed around the device, it did not significantly affect its overall function.

The team believes this technology could not only revolutionize insulin therapy but also be applied to other medical conditions requiring regular doses of externally produced proteins. They plan to conduct further studies in larger animals before testing the device on humans. Furthermore, they aim to extend the device’s lifespan within the body.

This research represents a significant step forward in the development of living medical devices that can produce drugs as needed. While the technology’s widespread availability is still in the future, it holds great promise for improving the lives of patients with diabetes and other conditions requiring regular medical intervention.

(Sources: MIT, PNAS)

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