All people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) take insulin on a daily basis as part of a balancing act between food, exercise, and blood-glucose levels. Advances in T1D management have made it easier for people with T1D to calculate how much insulin they will need to keep their blood glucose in range, but it is still a complicated and unpredictable process. Infusing the body with insulin several times a day through injections or an insulin pump can be a challenge.
A recent study by Zhen Gu, Ph.D., of North Carolina State University, is part of a growing area of research that seeks to eliminate this balancing act by developing a glucose-responsive insulin (GRI). Dr. Gu’s study specifically tested a nanoparticle-based GRI that is injected into the body and releases insulin in response to blood-glucose fluctuations. According to Dr. Gu, one injection of this nanoparticle-based insulin was effective in keeping blood glucose under control for up to 10 days in mice.
Dr. Gu’s study was supported by funds from JDRF’s close partner, The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust. JDRF has identified glucose responsive insulin as a research priority for its potential to achieve ideal glucose control by circulating in the body and only working when the body’s blood-glucose levels begin to rise, similar to insulin produced by a functioning pancreas. In a person without T1D, the pancreas will calibrate its insulin production to respond to existing blood-glucose levels and keep them within range with limited fluctuations. (People with T1D who have to act as their own pancreas, by contrast, must rely on informed guesswork about how their body will respond to any given insulin dosage.)
JDRF is pursuing the development of glucose-responsive insulin because it would perform that same pancreatic function—sensing blood-glucose levels and responding accordingly. If successful, GRI could lead to stronger control of blood glucose, improved daily quality of life, and fewer long-term complications for people with T1D.
Last year, JDRF spearheaded a groundbreaking initiative, the JDRF Agnes Varis GRI Grand Challenge (co-funded with InnoCentive), that opened the floor to scientists and inventors to present a solution for how they would solve the challenge of creating a glucose-responsive insulin. JDRF selected three winners, and we continue to work closely with them to further develop their research and ideas. JDRF also played a key role in the earliest research conducted on SmartInsulinTM, a glucose-responsive insulin product that is currently in research and development with Merck. We continue to seek out opportunities in this area of research, which has the potential to dramatically improve the lives of people with T1D.
According to Sanjoy Dutta, Ph.D., JDRF’s senior director of treat therapies, “From a patient perspective, [GRI] could be incredible. It would reduce the burden of diabetes.” Dr. Dutta cautions, however, that bringing to market a GRI that can benefit people with T1D is going to take time. “Many questions still need to be answered in animal studies, and we don’t know what the regulatory pathway would be, although I do anticipate regulatory challenges. This is an uncharted pathway, and this is why JDRF is prioritizing this area of research—we can help make GRI a reality, faster.”