Thus "smart" insulin could greatly improve the treatment of type 1 diabetes

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Elia Tabuenca García
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A team of researchers has come up with a smart insulin that could help treat type 1 diabetes

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A newly developed "smart" insulin could dramatically improve the treatment of type 1 diabetes. A new study supports this.

People with type 1 diabetes need to be very careful with their diet, exercise, and take insulin therapy to keep their blood sugar levels normal.

But now a team from Indiana University's School of Medicine in the United States has been working on the insulin molecule itself, modifying its structure with the aim of helping to improve the treatment of this type of diabetes.

Their modification focuses in particular on a characteristic already incorporated in the shape of the molecule: a protective "hinge" that allows the protein to function when it is open, otherwise keeping it stable when closed. The insulin molecule opens only in the presence of a "key", such as a simple sugar molecule.

The experiments conducted by the researchers were done using the fructose carbohydrate, showing that it was possible to manipulate insulin to activate only a sample of liver-derived cells when "ignited" by the presence of a certain amount of sugar.

@IU School of Medicine, 2021

This would be important because, currently, if the amount of insulin taken is not correct, the concentration of sugar in the blood can go dangerously below the limits and the patient risks hypoglycemia.

A "smart" insulin could avoid such risks. Of course the results, published in PNAS, are promising but it is only a first step, there is still work to be done to arrive at a proven therapy. But the idea would theoretically work the same for an insulin that is modeled to activate in the presence of glucose instead.  

As lead researcher Dr Michael A. Weiss stated:

The promise of this kind of "smart" insulin is that it would transform diabetes care, so people no longer have to worry. (…) The reason glucose-sensitive insulin is important is that the greatest barrier to effective insulin use, especially in type 1 diabetes, is fear of the consequences of lowering blood sugar.

The concept is actually not new and has already been explored by other researchers. Last year, a team of scientists from the University of Copenhagen and the biotech firm Gubra successfully used a similar approach, creating a form of insulin with an attached group that broke down in the presence of glucose to make it functional. molecule.

Already in 2019, some researchers had developed an intelligent variant of the hormone capable of precisely regulating the amount of sugar absorbed by the tissues and lowering blood sugar to normal levels and no more. 

The direction, therefore, seems to be this: to work to improve the efficiency of insulin and its precision in carrying out the important task of keeping blood sugars in balance.

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Source: PNAS

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