Researchers from UCLA, UNC School of Medicine and MIT have created a quarter-sized smart insulin-delivery patch that could one day manage glucose levels and deliver necessary insulin dosages without user intervention.

The "Smart Insulin Patch." Source: Zhen Gu Lab, UCLAThe "Smart Insulin Patch." Source: Zhen Gu Lab, UCLA

The patch, which includes microneedles of glucose-sensing polymer encapsulated in preloaded insulin doses, would reportedly eliminate the need for patients to constantly check blood sugar and inject insulin. Less than one millimeter long, the microneedles penetrate a half-millimeter below the skin once the patch is applied and they measure blood sugar levels. The polymer is triggered to release insulin when blood sugar reaches a predetermined threshold.

When blood sugar returns to normal, the patch’s insulin delivery slows, which prevents overdosing insulin. Overdosing insulin can lead to hypoglycemia, seizures, coma and sometimes death.

Because the microneedles are smaller than a regular needle used to draw blood, they are generally less painful than a pinprick.

The team successfully tested a quarter-sized patch on pigs with type one diabetes that wore the patch for 20 hours.

The technology has been accepted into the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Emerging Technology program. The team is applying for FDA approval for human clinical trials. Researchers believe that the microneedle patch could eventually be adapted for use with different drugs to manage other medical conditions.

A paper on the patch was published in Natural Biomedical Engineering.