Leveraging the Power of Light to Manage Type 1 Diabetes

A common problem in managing type 1 diabetes is maintaining relatively stable blood glucose levels. By the time a person realizes their blood sugar is rising or falling and begins to treat it, they may already experience spikes. This can be tough on the body and lead to over- or undertreatment in an effort to curb the highs or lows. Though technology has made it faster and easier to track blood glucose levels and more accurately administer insulin, it’s still not a perfect system.

A recent study reveals that researchers may have come up with a way to manage blood sugar without manually administering insulin. They engineered pancreatic beta cells to be responsive to exposure to blue light. By introducing a photoactivatable adenylate cyclase (PAC) enzyme into the cells, they produce a molecule that increases insulin production in response to high levels of glucose in the blood.

The molecule is turned on or off by blue light and can generate two to three times the typical amount of insulin produced by cells. However, it does not boost production when glucose levels in the blood are low. Furthermore, the cells do not require more oxygen than normal cells, which helps alleviate the common issue of oxygen starvation in transplanted cells.

The study was conducted on diabetic mice, so more research is needed to determine whether the process will be as effective in humans. If it is, this could mean that individuals with type 1 diabetes may have an option for controlling blood sugar levels without pharmacological intervention. When paired with a continuous glucose monitor (CGM) or other device as well as a source of blue light, it could create a closed loop model of managing the disease by functioning as a bioartificial pancreas.

This could be potentially life changing for individuals living with type 1 diabetes, and Diabetes Research Connection (DRC) is excited to see how the study progresses. Though not involved with this project, the DRC supports advancement of type 1 diabetes research and treatment options by providing critical funding for early career scientists pursuing novel research projects. Learn more by visiting http://diabetesresearchconnection.org.

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