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Ultrasound May Help Diabetics Avoid Needles

November 22, 2013
Written by: , Filed in: Interventional Radiology
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Ultrasound may make life easier for diabetics. A new ultrasound- and nanotechnology-based technique for introducing insulin into the body might allow those with diabetes to minimize the use of needles and go up to 10 days between injections.

Zhen Gu, PhD, senior author of a paper about the breakthrough, explained:

This is hopefully a big step toward giving diabetics a more painless method of maintaining healthy blood sugar levels.

Dr. Gu is an assistant professor in the University of North Carolina/North Carolina State University Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering in Chapel Hill and Raleigh, North Carolina. He was quoted in a North Carolina State news release. The paper was published online Tuesday in Advanced Healthcare Materials.

The technique involves injecting insulin-filled nanoparticles, some negatively and some positively charged, into the skin. Electrostatic forces hold the particles in a nano-network that amounts to a subcutaneous reservoir. A diabetes patient would then use a handheld device to apply focused ultrasonic waves to the site. That would painlessly release some of the insulin from the reservoir into the bloodstream.

The researchers think the ultrasound excites microscopic gas bubbles that push the nanoparticles apart, releasing the insulin from the electrostatic attraction. “We know this technique works, and we think this is how it works, but we are still trying to determine the precise details,” said Yun Jing, PhD, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at North Carolina State and a co-author of the paper.

The nanoparticles are biodegradable. When all of their insulin has been ultrasonically wrung out, they dissolve and are absorbed into the body in a few weeks. Meanwhile, a patient would inject a new reservoir into another patch of skin.

“We’ve done proof-of-concept testing in laboratory mice with type 1 diabetes,” Dr. Gu said. “We found that this technique achieves a quick release of insulin into the bloodstream, and that the nano-networks contain enough insulin to regulate blood glucose levels for up to 10 days.”

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