Bioengineers from UCLA Samueli School of Engineering have developed a new type of insulin that could help prevent hypoglycaemia in people with diabetes. The treatment is currently being evaluated for potential clinical trials and, if successful, could change diabetes care. Findings were published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The ‘smart insulin’ developed by scientists contains an additional molecule, a glucose transporter inhibitor, which chemically blocks the glucose transporter molecule that has come to the surface. This is part of a dynamic process that depends on how many inhibitor and glucose molecules are present.

“Our new i-insulin works like a 'smart' key,” said the study's principal investigator Zhen Gu, professor of bioengineering at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering. “The insulin lets glucose get into the cell, but the added inhibitor molecule prevents too much from going in when blood sugar is normal. This keeps blood sugar at normal levels and reduces the risk of hypoglycaemia.”

The research team tested the smart insulin on mice with Type 1 diabetes. The ‘smart’ insuin controlled glucose levels within the normal range for up to 10 hours after a first injection. A second injection three hours later extended the protection from hypoglycaemia.

“The next step is to further evaluate the long-term biocompatibility of the modified insulin system in an animal model before determining whether to move to clinical trials,” said John Buse, director of the Diabetes Care Centre at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine. “The vision, if realised, would be one of the most exciting advances in diabetes care."