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Novel “Smart” Insulin Automatically Adjusts Blood Sugar

Seven-year-old Foster’s fingertips are so calloused from pricking them that he now draws blood from the sides of his fingers instead. His mother, Tricia, says his toes are next. Foster was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes (T1D) at 10 months old, and Tricia started turning some of his care over to him as soon as he was able, starting at 4 years old. Today, that means checking his blood sugar eight to ten times each day and giving himself a shot of insulin when he needs it under Tricia’s supervision. It’s a lot to expect from a young boy, but his life depends on it.

For patients with T1D, the round-the-clock self-care is hard enough. Even worse, a miscalculation or lapse in regimen can cause blood sugar levels to rise too high (hyperglycemia), potentially leading to heart disease, blindness, amputation, and other long-term complications, or to plummet too low (hypoglycemia), which in the worst cases can result in coma or even death.

To mitigate the dangers inherent to insulin dosing, a University of Utah (U of U) biochemist and fellow scientists have created Ins-PBA-F, a long-lasting “smart” insulin that self-activates when blood sugar soars. Tests on mouse models for T1D show that one injection works for a minimum of 14 hours, during which time it can repeatedly and automatically lower blood sugar after mice are given amounts of sugar comparable to what they would consume at mealtime.

A study showing these findings was published in PNAS Early Edition.

“This is an important advance in insulin therapy,” said co-first author Danny Chou, PhD, USTAR investigator and assistant professor of biochemistry at the U of U. “Our insulin derivative appears to control blood sugar better than anything that is available to diabetes patients right now.” He will continue evaluating the long-term safety and efficacy of Ins-PBA-F. The insulin derivative could reach Phase 1 human clinical trials in two to five years.

Despite advances in diabetes treatment such as insulin pumps and the development of four types of insulin, patients must still manually adjust how much insulin they take on a given day. Blood sugar levels vacillate widely depending on a number of factors such as what someone chooses to eat and whether they exercise.

A glucose-responsive insulin that is automatically activated when blood sugar levels are high would eliminate the need for additional boosts of insulin and reduce the dangers that come with inaccurate dosing.

“My goal is to make life easier and safer for diabetics,” Chou said.

This article was adapted from information provided by the U of U.