Chinese and Swiss researchers said they have developed a system that, for the first time, enables smartphones to remotely manage and treat diabetes in mice. And the technology may soon be available for human beings suffering from diabetes.
In a study published in the US journal Science Translational Medicine on Wednesday, the researchers said they developed a smartphone app and used it to command engineered cells to produce insulin that helps diabetic mice achieve and maintain stable blood sugar levels within two hours.
“We believe that the … concept could pave the way for a new era of personalized, digitalized, and globalized precision medicine,” Haifeng Ye, professor of the East China Normal University in Shanghai, China, who led the study, told Xinhua.
For the study, the researchers first created cells that produced insulin when illuminated by far-red light, the same wavelengths emitted by therapy bulbs and infrared saunas.
Then, they added the cells to a soft bio-compatible sheath that also contained wirelessly-powered red LED lights to create HydrogeLEDs that could be turned on and off by an external command.
Finally, the HydrogeLEDs was implanted into the skin of diabetic mice to allow users to administer insulin doses remotely through a smart phone application.
In a small pilot experiment, the system also involved a control box called SmartController that communicates with the smart phone via the global GSM network and executes commands to turn on the HydrogeLEDs.
The scientists also paired the system with a Bluetooth-enabled glucometer, which allowed remote transmission of glycemic values to the smart phone for analysis.
When the measurements exceeded a pre-set threshold, the smartphone will signal the SmartController to turn on the HydrogeLEDs to enable insulin production.
“This work combines the unique capacity of electronic devices in reading and generating digital signals with the maximal theranostic precision of biological cells, and represents the first mobile healthcare system that unites the global markets of point-of-care technologies, mobile phone technology and cellular medicines,” Ye said.
Ye expressed the hope that future versions of the system could have a glucometer, which would also be implanted in the body, to monitor the patients’ blood sugar levels 24 hours a day in order to automatically trigger the therapeutic response.
Currently, more than 415 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, and frequently need to inject themselves with insulin to manage their blood sugars.
In a commentary accompanying the paper, Mark Gomelsky of the University of Wyoming said Ye’s study takes us one step further toward “smart” cell-based therapies.
“How soon should we expect to see people on the street wearing fashionable LED wristbands that irradiate implanted cells engineered to produce genetically encoded drugs under the control of a smart phone?” asked Gomelsky. “Not just yet, but (this work) provides us with an exciting glimpse into the future of smart cell-based therapeutics.”