Smartphone-controlled cells can treat diabetes

Researchers in China have developed a system than enables smartphones to control release of glucose-lowering hormones in mice by engineered cells, paving the way for the development of an automated way for monitoring blood glucose levels and delivering insulin in humans too.

Am estimated 415 million people worldwide are living with diabetes, and frequently need to inject themselves with insulin to manage their blood sugar.

The findings, published in the journal Science Translational Medicine, showed that cells engineered to produce insulin under the command of a smartphone helped keep blood sugar levels within normal limits in diabetic mice.

Combining living tissues and technology, Jiawei Shao of East China Normal University in Shanghai, and colleagues created custom cells that produced insulin when illuminated by far-red light – the same wavelengths emitted by therapy bulbs and infrared saunas.

These designer cells were transfected with optogenetic circuits, which enabled them to produce the hormones in response to far-red light.

A smartphone could adjust far-red light intensity and duration with help from a control box.

Implanting hydrogel capsules containing both engineered cells and light-emitting diode light sources provided a semiautonomous system that maintained glucose homeostasis over several weeks in diabetic mice.

This study illuminates the potential of cell-based therapies and the researchers believe that successfully linking digital signals with engineered cells represents an important step toward translating similar cell-based therapies into the clinic.

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