Researchers have developed a coin-sized smart insulin patch that could one day help those with diabetes more easily manage and monitor blood sugar levels.

The adhesive patch contains microneedles that are pre-loaded with insulin. When glucose levels reach a certain threshold, the microneedles automatically deliver insulin and slows delivery once levels return to normal.

This could help prevent insulin overdoses, said the bioengineers at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) who developed the patch.

“Our main goal is to enhance health and improve the quality of life for people who have diabetes,” said study leader Zhen Gu, a professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering.

“This smart patch takes away the need to constantly check one’s blood sugar and then inject insulin if and when it’s needed. It’s mimicking the regulatory function of the pancreas, but in a way that’s easy to use.”

Smart insulin patch could help millions

The majority of those living with diabetes today use a device to draw blood and monitor glucose levels before self-administering the appropriate amount of insulin with a needle, pen-like device or insulin pump.

More than 400 people are affected by all forms of diabetes worldwide, with 4.7 million people in the UK living with the condition.

The smart insulin patch has so far been tested on mice and pigs. One coin-sized smart insulin patch successfully controlled glucose levels in pigs with type one diabetes for about 20 hours.

The findings were published in the journal Nature Biomedical Engineering.

smart insulin patch

Schematic mechanism of glucose-responsive smart insulin patch. (Credit: Zhen Gu Lab/UCLA) (via )

The smart insulin patch has been accepted into the FDA’s Emerging Technology Program, boosting its chances of passing regulatory hurdles before it makes it to market.

“It has always been a dream to achieve insulin-delivery in a smart and convenient manner,” said study co-author Dr John Buse, director of the Diabetes Center and the Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. “This smart insulin patch, if proven safe and effective in human trials, would revolutionize the patient experience of diabetes-care.”

Previous studies have developed smart insulin patches, with one team in Swansea working on a prototype using microneedles in 2018.


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