The smartphone that orders the body to treat diabetes

Researchers at East China Normal University in Shanghai have used a smartphone to control blood sugar levels in mice with diabetes (BBC News, 2017).

The idea, described in Science Translational Medicine, could be applied to a wide range of diseases and drug treatments.

Cells in the mice were genetically engineered to manufacture drugs that control blood sugar levels such as insulin, using optogenetics, a biological technique that uses light to control cells, in this case specific wavelengths of red light.

Researchers implanted a system using wireless LEDs into the mice and were able to control diabetes with a smartphone app. The team said the findings “could pave the way for a new era of personalised, digitalised and globalised precision medicine.”

The scientists needed to take tiny drops of blood to know how high the blood sugar levels were so they could calculate how much of the drug to release into the mouse. Their ultimate goal is a fully automated system that detects sugar levels and then releases the right amount of therapeutic chemicals.

Professor Mark Gomelsky, a molecular biologist from the University of Wyoming, said the study was an “exciting accomplishment.” He said “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 smartphone? Not just yet, but the work provides us with an exciting glimpse into the future of smart cell-based therapeutics.”

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