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Treating diabetes with nanoparticle, ultrasound technology in the East

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GREENVILLE, N.C. - A new technology for treating diabetes with nanoparticles and ultrasound is in development in North Carolina.

The work done by researchers at North Carolina State University and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill could help diabetics go days without using a needle.

Diabetics inject themselves multiple times a day with insulin, yet this new nanotechnology would release insulin painlessly and allow patients to go days between injections.

For many diabetics in the East, this research is something hard to imagine because it could completely change their lives.

"I wake up usually around five or six and check my sugar, see where I'm at. If I'm in a good place, I don't do anything,” said diabetic, Carl Campbell. “But if it's [the level] high or something, I take the insulin I need then I check myself again, usually around 9 or 10, then see where I'm at."

Campbell is 53-years-old and has suffered with Type 1 diabetes for the past 28 years. It’s the same disease that killed his father.

"It hit three of us in the family, out of 13. So I kind of knew it was coming, but I didn't know it was coming," said Campbell.

Testing blood sugar levels and injecting insulin is something constantly on his mind.

"I don't look forward to taking my needle,” admitted Campbell. “It's still a little painful, but I do it."

Yet, these biomedical and mechanical engineering researchers at NCSU and UNC Chapel Hill say that could all change in a few years.

"This technology can definitely bring hope to the diabetics, especially for ones with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes,” said nanoparticle researcher at NCSU and UNC-Chapel Hill, Dr. Chen Gu.

The substance looks like toothpaste and takes several hours to make. Gu says it could make all the difference to the nearly 400 million people all over the world with diabetes.

A dose of nanoparticles is injected into the patient’s skin and stays there for about 10 days. It forms a nano-network, which basically creates a dose of insulin waiting to be delivered into the bloodstream. Instead of a patient using a need to give themselves the insulin, the patient uses a small handheld device to send ultrasound waves that would regulate the insulin into the bloodstream.

"Ultrasound plays a very important rule in this project because that's the thing that triggers the insulin release. If you just put the nanoparticle in the body, it won't release anything so you need some triggering,” said ultrasound researcher at NCSU, Dr. Yun Jing.

In its final stages of development, researchers hope to use another nano-system technology that can sense blood sugar levels without having to prick the skin and draw blood. When those levels drop, the insulin would release automatically.

"We try to make the device even smaller and in the future you can imagine that the diabetics where a watch on the wrist and just push some button on it,” said Dr. Gu.

No pain, no needles and no blood.

These techniques are still in the early phases of testing, but Dr. Gu and Dr. Jing say it works. They hope within the next five to ten years, this will be available to people like, Campbell, whose daily lives are taken over by diabetes.

"If this thing is regulatable, which is what has me buffled. How can they regulate something like that? But I guess if it is regulatable, it's a wonderful new technique,” said Campbell. “It would be absolutely fabulous.”

The research team is currently collecting grants to fund an animal study and hope to have that done by the end of the year. If successful, the team will move on to a clinical trial.

Click here to read the full study published online in Advanced Healthcare Materials in November 2013. The paper was co-authored by: Jin Di, Jennifer Price, and Dr. Zhen Gu, North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Dr. Xiaoning Jiang and Dr. Yun Jing, North Carolina State University; and Dr. Xiao Gu, Yangzhou University.

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