Diabetes mellitus or in commonly referred form, diabetes, is a ruthless killer. Around 387 million people around the world suffer from it and it’s estimated that Diabetes mellitus is directly responsible for around 4 million deaths per year. This accounts to 9% of the global total deaths, giving diabetes a place in top 10 list of diseases that are responsible for most deaths in the world. Diabetes is a form of metabolic diseases, which is characterized by the presence of high blood sugar levels in the body over a long period. The frequent symptoms of diabetes do not appear very serious, but acute complications of the disease can lead to life threatening conditions like, diabetic ketoacidosis and nonketotic hyperosmolar coma, literally doubling a person’s risk of death. In poorly controlled cases, long term serious complications like cardiovascular disease, stroke, chronic kidney failure, foot ulcers, and damage to the eyes are common. In most cases, it’s a disease that kills slowly. We have not yet found a complete cure for diabetes and treatment for the diabetes mellitus is focused around managing the treatment with various strategies.
Diabetes is caused either by pancreas not producing sufficient amount of insulin for the body or due to poor response of the body cells to the produced insulin. The type 2 diabetes is the most common type of diabeteres, which is characterized by the poor response of the body cells to insulin followed by lack of insulin production at the latter stages of the disease. Type 2 diabetes, accounts for around 80-90% of the diabetes cases in the world. This type of diabetes is commonly triggered by unhealthy lifestyle habits, obesity and poor exercise.
Nanotechnology can play a significantly important role in monitoring, repairing, control and even constructing human biological systems at the cellular level. This feat is only possible due to our ability to manipulate atoms and molecues at the nanometer level. These nanomaterials operate at a scale close to the building blocks of the human body; cells. Therefore, nanotechnology presents an interesting pathways to revolutionize way we conduct medicine today. Medicine specific nanotechnology is commonly referred to as Nano medicine. Nanotechnology based approaches to cure or manage diabetes has been one of the most researched areas in nanotechnology research. Here we present some of the most developed and influential technologies that are to be seen in the market soon.
Monitoring of the health of the body’s insulin producing cells in real time is a major advance in treating and managing diabetes. The microphysiometer, is an instrument that can be used to monitor the condition of these cells by submerging them in a saline solution. The device is capable of rapidly measure minute amounts of insulin produced by a special pancreatic cells called “Islets of Langerhans” in a volumes as small as three microliters-about 1/20th the size of an average drop of rain.
Microphysiometer is fabricated using conductive multiwalled carbon nanotubes as electrodes. The nanotubes are specially modified to be measure the response of cells to a variety of chemical substances. The nanotubes may be surface functionalized to a specific ligand in a plasma membrane receptor. The conductivity of the CNT electrode arrays depend on the amount of insulin produced which can be measured by the current flow. When the cells produce more insulin, the current in the sensor increases and vice versa, providing a real time monitoring mechanism to measure insulin in a body.
Implantable sensor, is a long term monitoring tool for tissue glucose concentrations which has been tried and tested in animal models for a duration more than a year. The method is designed to provide an alternative to the finger sticking or short term sensors used in the present day. The most advanced form of implantable sensor has fluorescent nanoparticles which are replaced by glucose molecules to create a glow when the level of glucose drops to a dangerous levels. The glow can be seen as a patch or a tattoo on the arm, warning the patient. Companies like Glysens, has already developed sensors that may include microchips which are capable of transmitting blood glucose levels, temperature and pulse rate in to a smart phone.
Smart polymeric nanoparticles
Smart polymeric nanoparticles are carriers of insulin. They can be made from biodegradable polymeric nanoparticles for smart and controlled drug delivery application and packs a significant therapeutic potential in treating diabetes. These nanoparticles contain a polymer insulin matrix surrounded by a nanoporous membrane. The surface of the membrane is modified with a glucose oxidase enzyme which is triggered in an event of rise in blood glucose levels. The resulting chemical reaction between glucose and glucose oxidase increases the pH in the surrounding environment of the polymer nanoparticles which slightly dissolves the membrane. This cause increase release of insulin and help control the elevated blood sugar levels.
Oral insulin administration
May be the most irritating part of having diabetes is getting insulin administered in to the body using subcutaneous injections. The reason for injecting insulin directly to the bloodstream instead of getting it through the oral pathway is when, administered orally, insulin undergoes degradation in the stomach due to gastric enzymes. Nanotechnology based diabetes treatment method using oral insulin delivery has been an area of diabetes research and now realized by encapsulating insulin molecules in polymeric nanoparticles. In one such a famous study, insulin is protected with a biocomposite consisting calcium phosphate, polyethylene glycol and milk protein. The milk protein protected the capsule and the insulin from gastric enzymes and delivered insulin in slow release manner for extended durations. Oramed is a company specialized in oral insulin delivery tablets and has gained a presence in the market.
Insulin delivery using inhalable nanoparticles
Unlike in oral administration, insulin can directly enter in to the bloodstream through lungs without degradation. Scientists have developed nanoparticles small enough that can directly be inhaled through nasal opening to be administrated in to the lungs. Inside the lungs, insulin is directly delivered in to the bloodstream. However, to realize this goal, nanoparticles encapsulating insulin should be prepared in very small sizes to prevent clogging up the lungs and large enough not to be exhaled. Number of nanoparticle types including, calcium phosphate, porous hydroxyapatite and polymer nanoparticles have been tested for inhalation type insulin delivery with great success in animal models.
Nanopump is a state of the art drug delivery system that is based on NEMS/MEMS technology. The technology is pioneered by a company called Debiotech. The company boasts the Nanopump to be an extremely small, safe, reliable and accurate device. The primary purpose of the device is to deliver doses of medicine in micro level volumes with high precision. The working principle behind the Nanopump is a membrane pump and a pair of check valves integrated in to a NEMS/MEMS device with sub micron precision. The chip is activated by a small piezoelectric actuator that moves the membrane to deliver the drug in to the body. The method is available for drug delivery applications worldwide.