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UCSF Lab Working To Make Smarter Device To Help People With Diabetes

SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) -- A lab at UCSF is working to make a smarter device to help people with type one diabetes.

When Susan Fong decides to eat anything, even popcorn, she goes through a complicated checklist.

"When did I eat last, when was my last dose, how much exercise have I had today? Are the moon and the sun in alignment. I mean there are some weird variables," Fong said.

Fong, a software engineer, has type one diabetes and an insulin pump controls her blood sugar. But, she says, the dosing is tricky, and it takes time for the insulin to kick in. She'd love a smarter device.

"If it could know when to release the insulin automatically then it removes the burden of someone having to figure it out. Every time you eat, having to figure out what to give.  If we can get rid of that aspect of it, and it's automated, that to me is effectively a cure," Fong said.

Now, using nanotechnology, scientists in a Bay Area lab are getting closer to the dream.

Professor Tejal Desai is chair of the department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences at UCSF.

Her team, along with the UCSF Diabetes Center, has created a device that uses nanotechnology to deliver the right dose of insulin as it detects glucose in the blood.

"We are really trying to develop nanotechnologies that will make it easier to allow medicine to cross barriers in the body"

A tiny wafer-like structure is implanted under the skin, and contains special stem cells that secrete insulin. The cells are captured between two thin films engineered with tiny nano-sized holes

The holes are big enough to allow glucose from the blood "in", and the right amount of insulin "out."

Yet the holes are also small enough to shield the special cells  from the body's immune system, that would normally try to destroy them.

"I just can't imagine you know sitting down to eat something and having this technology take care of it for me," Fong said.

The Desai lab is also working on other nanostructures that will allow other medications to more easily get into the blood stream or to the right targets.

"The body actually keeps most of our prescription drugs out, Desai said.

"In fact if you take a pill orally, less than 5 percent actually make it into your body. Most of it is excreted. If you take an eye drop less than 1 percent makes it through the corneal barrier," she said.

If the lab is successful, Desai says, smaller doses will be needed,  fewer side effects felt, and that could result in a cost savings and a better quality of life.


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