Recent Advances in Diabetes Treatment

Every year, more than 1.5 million American adults and children are diagnosed with diabetes. This all-too-common disease, which affects more than 30.3 million Americans or roughly 9.4 percent of the U.S.

population, occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin or when it can’t use the insulin that it makes. As a result, sugars build up in the blood. If left untreated, diabetes can lead to a variety of serious complications, including blindness, kidney failure, and heart disease.

The seventh-leading cause of death among Americans in 2015, diabetes is incredibly prevalent. Additionally, it is estimated that nearly 84.1 million Americans over the age of 18 had pre-diabetes in 2015. Therefore, a lot of research is conducted every year in an attempt to develop better treatments and therapies. Thanks to advanced technologies, in fact, monitoring and managing both type I and type II diabetes is easier and less invasive for patients than ever.

Read on to learn about five of today’s most promising advances in the area of diabetes treatment.

1. Diabetes Assistant Artificial Pancreas

The pancreas, which is located near the stomach, is the organ that is responsible for producing and regulating insulin. Therefore, a lot of the research that is being done regarding the treatment of diabetes focuses on finding ways to replicate what a healthily functioning pancreas does. Case in point, the Diabetes Assistant Artificial Pancreas system that is currently being developed by Dr. Boris Kovatchev of the University of Virginia, which is designed for patients who suffer from type I diabetes.

Devices and systems like the Diabetes Assistant Artificial Pancreas are designed to closely mirror the glucose-regulating functionality of a healthy pancreas. Like similar devices that have already been cleared by the FDA, this one consists of three components. There is a continuous glucose monitor (CGM), an insulin infusion pump, and a blood glucose meter, which is used to calibrate the CGM. The pump and CGM continuously communicate via a specialized algorithm to help to control glucose levels. Research has so far revealed that the device helps patients to stay within health blood-sugar ranges for long periods of time, decreases the overall rate of hypoglycemia — low blood sugar — and improves the ability to control blood sugar levels overnight.

2. MC10 Skin Patch

A specialized skin patch that is being developed by MC10, a biomedical firm that is based in Lexington, Massachusetts, is currently among the most exciting developments in the area of minimally invasive blood glucose monitoring. Designed to work something like a flexible tattoo, it is made out of graphene and is applied directly to the skin. Electronic sensors in the device detect excess glucose in the sweat and then administers medication by heating up microneedles that then penetrate the skin.

Originally developed by a professor at Seoul National University in South Korea and featured in a recent issue of Nature Nanotechnology, the MC10 skin patch is studded with gold particles with enzyme-based sensors that detect pH, glucose, temperature, and humidity. When the device detects that glucose levels are too high, heat causes a coating on the microneedles to dissolve. From there, metformin — a diabetes medication — is administered below the skin. For people with diabetes, the MC10 patch could be a real game-changer. It should minimize the need to manually check glucose levels and to treat spikes with medication.

Because it is an ultra-thin tattoo-like patch, it doesn’t get in the way and is very discreet.

3. Sweetch

According to the American Diabetes Association, more than 84.1 million American adults had pre-diabetes in 2015. For such individuals, steps can often be taken to prevent pre-diabetes from turning into full-blown diabetes. Sweetch, an app that is currently in clinical trials at Johns Hopkins Medical Center in Maryland, seeks to predict a person’s personal risk of developing diabetes and encourages positive, long-term changes that can help to ward off the disease.

Developed by a Tel Aviv-based company, Sweetch will most likely be prescribed by doctors for patients who are at risk of developing pre-diabetes or who have already developed it. Among the more than 84 million American adults who have pre-diabetes currently, approximately 70 percent will be diabetic within a decade’s time. However, positive changes can minimize this risk. For example, research has shown that getting at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week can reduce the risk of conversion from pre-diabetes to diabetes by a whopping 58 percent.

While doctors currently advise pre-diabetic patients to make dietary and lifestyle changes, patients often fail to connect the dots or to stick with those changes. It is hoped that apps like Sweetch will help to minimize this problem.

4. GlucoTrack

Although it is not yet available in the United States, another diabetes treatment system to be on the lookout for is GlucoTrack. Currently available in European countries, Israel and South Korea, GlucoTrack is a lightweight device that is clipped into an earlobe. It measures a variety of physical parameters that are associated with blood glucose levels to determine if glucose levels are elevated. In less than a minute, the results of the test are shown on a handheld, USB-connected control unit, so there is no need to wait around to see how things are going.

The handheld control unit, which is also very streamlined and lightweight, states the blood glucose level, which is reflected as a number, audibly. This is a great feature for very elderly patients or for those who have trouble seeing clearly. The device also stores and compares previous readings, allowing patients to get a feel for how well they are tracking and managing blood sugar levels.

In addition to being a diagnostic tool, GlucoTrack is also designed to be educational. As an added bonus, it gives patients the opportunity to take a more proactive approach to managing their diabetes.

5. Nutrino Health App

Rounding out the list is the Nutrino Health app, which is primarily concerned with helping people who have diabetes to manage their blood sugar levels more effectively through proper nutrition. Recognized as a Biomedical Start-Up of the Year, the company behind the digital device seeks to educate patients about the ways in which food affects the management of blood sugar levels. It does this through the use of a variety of technologies, and it is compatible with both iOS and Android smartphones and other devices.

The Nutrino Health app is beneficial to people with diabetes because it provides an individual, digital “FoodPrint,” as the company calls it, which helps patients to identify which foods positively or negatively affect their blood glucose levels. In addition to detecting several biological markers, the device can pull data from activity sensors, wearables, medical devices, and other technologies to give patients an even broader picture of their nutrition.

The free version is loaded with features like meal suggestions, exercise tips, and a food log. The premium version provides patients with a personalized meal planner, a full recipe browser, custom diet options, and much more. It is hoped that by using the device and monitoring their nutrition, people with diabetes and even those with pre-diabetes can take steps to minimize medication and other interventions and to also minimize the risk of complications.

richcano / Getty Images