Diabetes News: Microworms That Monitor Blood Sugar; New Approach to Bariatric Surgery; Stem Cells to Cure Diabetes

It is now recognized that it is the low- and middle-income countries that face the greatest burden of diabetes. However, many governments and public health planners still remain largely unaware of the current magnitude, or, more importantly, the future potential for increases in diabetes and its serious complications in their own countries.

However, seeing the business potential of investing in diabetes research, pharmaceutical companies are now feverishly developing new drugs and technologies to cater to a booming market. Companies are now moving beyond just drug research and are pushing the frontiers of science from nanoworms that monitor blood sugar to a permanent cure for diabetes using stem cells.

In today’s post I’m highlighting three exciting developments which, if successful, spell new hope for diabetics.

Glowing Microworms That Monitor Blood Sugar

Tiny, glowing ‘microworms’ implanted under the skin could be used to give blood sugar readings for diabetics, or other biomedical information, say researchers at MIT and Northeastern.

Their tube-shaped microparticles, unlike existing spherical versions, won’t be swept away from the initial site over time, they say. The tubes’ narrow width keeps their contents close to blood or body tissue, while their length keeps them anchored for months on end.

The nanoparticles are created by using chemical vapor deposition (CVD) to coat an aluminum oxide layer that’s been etched to contain tiny pores. Then, the coated material is dissolved away, leaving a series of hollow tubes where the pores used to be.

Before that, though, another material can be added that fluoresces in the presence of a specific chemical such as glucose. This means that when the ‘microworms’ are injected under the skin, they form a glowing tattoo that could be used to monitor diabetic patients.

“Tight control over glucose levels can help individuals stave off the devastating side-effects of diabetes – the number-one cause of kidney failure, blindness in adults, nervous system damage, and amputations,” says MIT chemical engineering professor Karen Gleason.

“In principle, this could open the way for avoiding blood tests, which need a central lab, expert nurses, extra time and extra costs. It could be done in a doctor’s office, or even at home,” says Professor Raoul Kopelman of the University of Michigan. “It will also avoid complications for patients with ‘difficult’, or ‘used-up’ veins, patients on blood thinners, etc.”

However, he warns that there could be concerns about long-term toxicity and bio-elimination, as well as complications such as blood clots.

Minimally Invasive Approach to Bariatric Surgery

There are scores of startups offering different approaches to obesity and diabetes eager to address the $174 billion in costs related to diabetes each year.

Now, MetaModix, a Minnesota medical device company, is moving ahead with plans to develop a minimally invasive approach to bariatric surgery and better solve the problem of type 2 diabetes.

The company is “developing a cost-effective minimally invasive therapy for type 2 diabetes” that mimics “certain elements of bariatric surgery through an endoscopic procedure.”

The process would be an out-patient procedure that would last about 30 minutes, according to Kedar Belhe, the company’s chief executive officer.

Bariatric surgery often eliminates a patient’s type 2 diabetes. However, there are concerns over the procedure itself: from post-operative side effects to the long-term impact of the surgery.

Meanwhile, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration just broadened the use of Allergan’s Lap-Band device to include more patients, for example, and other approaches range from stomach stapling, embedding sensors or inserting sleeves in the body.

Stem Cell Research Seeks Permanent Cure for Diabetes

In India, which has about 50.8 million people suffering from diabetes, another start-up, Stempeutics Research, is investing in stem cell research in the hope of discovering a permanent cure for diabetes.

Stempeutics Research has received clearance from the Drug Controller General of India (DCGI) for its investigational medicinal product Stempeucel for conducting phase II clinical trials on patients with diabetes.

“Stem cell therapy aims at addressing the root cause of the disease rather than the symptoms. Our goal is to bring out stem cell based drug in the near future. We will hit the market with our first product by end of 2011.

While the initial foray of Stempeutics is in bone marrow derived mesenchymal stem cells, Stempeutics is investing heavily on its R&D to bring out some innovative products in the near future based on adult stem cells.

There will be continuous research for each disease so as to improve product development for effective therapy. Research will be conducted on effective cell number, route of transplantation,” Stempeutics Research president BN Manohar President said.

According to the procedure, 10 patients will get one particular dosage of stempeucels, another 10 will get a higher dosage and the remaining 10 will get placebo (no drugs). “It will take at least 12 to 14 months to complete the study,” said Manohar.

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