From Smart Phones to Smart Insulin

Who says scientists can’t be clever marketers. If you doubt it, consider the folks who came up withe the concept of “smart insulin.” This catch phrase conveys so much more than “insulin with aliphatic phenylboronic acid conjugates” ever could. In a time when everybody seems to be carrying a smart phone, why would anybody want dumb insulin?

Scientists from MIT have been busy developing and evaluating new forms of insulin to solve a basic problem. Right now, people with diabetes who need insulin have to obsessively monitor their blood sugar levels throughout the day and adjust their doses of insulin accordingly. Protecting one’s health from the life-threatening harms of diabetes depends on keeping blood sugar well controlled all day, every day.

The idea behind these modified forms of insulin is to make the molecules do all the work of responding to fluctuations in blood sugar. When blood sugar rises, this smart insulin is activated to bring them into range. When it’s in range, the molecule’s activity is dialed back so that blood sugar doesn’t go too low.

At least that’s the idea.

In drug development, there’s many a slip twixt the cup and the lip. Ideas that sound great in theory don’t always work out. In fact, most of them don’t.

For this smart insulin, the team has just published promising results in mice with diabetes. In their research, they have found the potential for glycemic control that can match the control provided by a normally functioning pancreas. That would indeed be a big deal if it works out.

It will take years of testing to determine if this promise comes true in people with diabetes. But the positive signs are encouraging.

Click here to read more from BBC News and here to read the publication of the research program in PNAS.

Insulin, illustration © Amanda Schutz / flickr

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