Drugs that mimic beneficial bacteria found in the human gut, implantable and incisionless weight loss devices and stem cells that restore pancreatic function.
If the world is going to make a dent in the diabetes epidemic, it’ll require innovative approaches like those mentioned above – and more.
Solutions to the “whole body” problem of diabetes are coming from a wide variety of sources: the chairman of Whole Foods, innovative but largely unknown startups, entrenched industry giants and stem cell researchers, for example.
The following innovations in the treatment of diabetes provide some hope of lowering blood sugar levels and the economic toll of this costly and chronic condition.
The gut is home to trillions of bacteria, some of which can improve or worsen insulin resistance in mice – and perhaps humans. Plus, certain types of bacteria are more often found in the guts of lean or obese mice. If researchers can figure out which bacterial species in the gut are beneficial and which are pathogenic, they might be able to reduce diabetes or even cure it, Nature reported. It may be possible to develop drugs that mimic the chemicals produced by the bacteria found in lean people’s guts, or inhibit molecules that lead to insulin resistance and diabetes.
Nu Me Health, co-founded by the chairman of Whole Foods Market, is developing a proprietary blend of prebiotics and other natural, plant-derived ingredients that are designed to alter the composition of the bacteria living in the gastrointestinal tract in order to help people with prediabetes maintain healthy blood glucose levels and body weight.
Incisionless, implantable devices:
Medical device startup EndoSphere has developed an incisionless, anti-obesity device that could be used to treat diabetics. The device recently received the CE mark, and works by slowing the passage of food through the duodenum, the upper part of the smaller intestine that breaks down food. Because food is in contact with the duodenum for a longer time, the device essentially fools the body into thinking that it’s consumed more food than it actually has. It’s implanted with an endoscope in a quick procedure and can be removed just as easily. MetaModix also appears to be developing a device based on a similar approach.
Research published earlier this year in the journal BMC Medicine details a treatment that uses stem cells from cord blood to re-educate a diabetic’s own immune system cells and restore pancreatic function, allowing the pancreas to start producing insulin and reducing the need for the drug. “The concept is very intriguing, and the treatment seems to be so simple and so safe,” a University of Miami diabetes researcher told USA Today. The study was led by a University of Illinois at Chicago professor, who cautioned that it involved only 15 Chinese people and future studies would need to involve a much wider, more diverse patient population.
Smart blood glucose meter:
There are plenty of glucose meters in development that wirelessly transmit blood glucose data to health providers, but a company called Hygieia is going a step further. The company is developing a device that uses proprietary software to generate recommendations on how diabetes patients should adjust their insulin dosages. A physician sets up the device and then patients take it home, and use it to measure their blood glucose levels. The software in the device analyzes patterns in those measurements and generates insulin dosage recommendations. The device would represent a cheaper alternative to diabetics than in-office tests and physician visits. It’s scheduled to be rolled out in the United Kingdom later this year.
The artificial pancreas is often regarded as the Holy Grail of diabetes treatment. Ideally, the artificial pancreas would be a small, portable closed-loop system comprising a continuous glucose monitor, an insulin pump capable of delivering precise amounts of insulin and a computer algorithm to tell that pump just how much insulin to deliver based on blood sugar levels. The closest thing we have now to the artificial pancreas is Medtronic’s MiniMed Paradigm Veo, which is available in Europe but not the U.S.
That device comes with an insulin pump, a built-in continuous glucose monitor and personal therapy management software. A key feature is its Low Glucose Suspend (LGS) automation, which stops the pump from delivering insulin for two hours when a patient’s blood sugar level gets too low. The next key step in the quest for the artificial pancreas involves integrating an insulin-delivery algorithm and associated automation with the rest of the technology.