Someone dies from diabetes every 8 seconds. The number of adults with diabetes has doubled in the past three decades, according to the World Health Organization.
On World Diabetes Day, we'd like to highlight the importance of clinical trials for diabetic patients.
Clinical research has revolutionized the treatment of diabetes. Prior to 1921 diabetes was akin to a death sentence, until Banting and Best isolated insulin for injection. Originally extracted from cows and pigs, clinical researchers went on to develop synthetic insulin by modifying bacteria to mass-produce insulin in the lab during the 1980s. Clinical trials conducted during the 1950s gave us oral hypoglycemic agents for the treatment of type 2 diabetes.
In recent years, there have been a number of exciting new developments in diabetes research:
- Glucose Monitoring Tattoos: Scientists at Harvard and MIT are currently exploring the possibility of using tattoos to detect changes in blood sugar, reducing the need for finger-prick tests. Traditional ink would be replaced by fluorescent biosensors that change color in response to high or low blood sugar.
- Insulin Patches: Recently, insulin patches for the treatment of diabetes have emerged from clinical trials. Insulin is delivered via a patch applied to the skin (like nicotine or contraceptive patches), removing the need to directly inject insulin. A recent study found that the patch is just as effective as insulin pens while providing a preferable delivery alternative for patients and clinicians.
- Light-Activated Insulin Producing Cells: Researchers at Tufts University have recently transplanted engineered beta cells (insulin-producing cells of the pancreas) into diabetic mice. When exposed to light, these cells produced 2x to 3x the normal amount of insulin, allowing glucose levels to be controlled without the need for drug intervention.
- New Drug Targets: Most recent of these innovations is the identification of the biological mechanism through which a rare mutation in the SLC30A8 gene can protect against the development of type 2 diabetes. This gene is involved in zinc transport in the body, which is important for insulin secretion. Now that we know how the mutation acts, this research potentially gives us a new target for future anti-diabetic and preventative therapies.
As the exact cause of type 1 diabetes remains unknown, clinical research is vital. It will allow researchers to compare and contrast patient blood glucose levels, track metabolism, monitor organ functionality in relation to medications, shape the improvement of current treatments, bring new treatments to fruition, and perhaps one day, develop a cure.