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Smart Insulin Patches: Technical Breakthrough in Diabetes

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4 min read


Smart insulin patches are revolutionary insulin administrators that change the experience of diabetes care.

Written by

Dr. Pallavi. C

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Sugandh Garg

Published At May 20, 2024
Reviewed AtMay 20, 2024


Diabetes is characterized by the body's inability to control blood sugar levels. If glucose levels are not properly controlled, this might result in major health problems such as kidney failure, blindness, and limb amputation. To keep their blood sugar under control, people with diabetes frequently need to monitor it and administer insulin shots; however, this can be uncomfortable and occasionally ineffective. Researchers are developing an artificial pancreas-like insulin delivery system. With the help of tiny needle patches, this device releases insulin in response to elevated blood sugar levels. Insulin is kept in unique capsules that release insulin when needed in response to variations in oxygen levels brought on by the breakdown of glucose.

What Are the Different Types of Diabetes Patches?

Diabetes patches function in many ways.

Here are a few instances.

  • Insulin Pump-Patch: This prescription method involves loading fast-acting insulin into a tiny cartridge. The cartridge is then fastened to a patch that is applied to the body. The insulin is injected into the bloodstream using a tiny needle secured by the patch. Studies reveal that those who use them require less insulin daily than those who depend on injections.

  • Continuous Glucose Monitoring Systems: One can apply a sensor to their skin to use this system. Next, they scan it with a compatible device, like a smartphone, in certain situations. The sensor displays the daily level patterns and other blood sugar-related facts. It does not deliver medication, but they must have a prescription to obtain one.

  • Experimental Insulin Patches: Scientists are working on a patch-based method of administering insulin without needing an additional gadget. Consider it similar to a pain relief patch for those with sore muscles or a nicotine patch for smokers trying to quit. Although animal results are encouraging, much more research is required before it is approved for use in humans.

  • Over-the-Counter (OTC) Herbal Patches: Few products work, sometimes just because a big retailer sells them. This is the situation with what are referred to as diabetic or diabetes patches. The FDA has yet to authorize them, indicating they have not undergone the same testing procedures as gadgets and drugs. Even the combination of herbs these patches claim to give has yet to be well studied.

What Is a Smart Insulin Patch?

Bioengineers at MIT, UCLA, and UNC, three of the nation's best universities, released the Smart Insulin Patch in 2015. Dr. Zhen Gu, a bioengineering professor at the UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, led their work. The FDA-approved product is a silicon strip the size of a penny that has hundreds of microneedles embedded in its backside. These microneedles have an insulin coating and are constructed of a glucose-sensing polymer. These needles only pierce the skin a millimeter below the surface to administer insulin. These needles only pierce the skin a millimeter below the surface to administer insulin. There are no uncomfortable pricks in this approach. The needles are continuously measuring blood glucose levels. Insulin is released by the polymer when glucose levels rise above a predetermined threshold.

How Does the Smart Insulin Patch Work?

The researchers' smart insulin patch functions using an advanced technology that eliminates the need for uncomfortable injections by monitoring blood glucose levels and delivering insulin as needed.

This is how it operates:

  • Glucose Sensing: The patch has over a hundred small microneedles, each with minuscule insulin and glucose-sensing enzyme storage units. These enzymes can detect increases in blood sugar levels.

  • Insulin Release: Upon identifying increased blood sugar, the glucose-sensing enzymes trigger a sequence of events within the microneedles. These enzymes use oxygen to transform the extra glucose into gluconic acid.

  • Hypoxia Response: When oxygen is consumed, there is a localized drop in oxygen levels, which results in a hypoxic atmosphere. Within the patch, hydrophobic molecules (2-nitroimidazole, or NI) undergo structural changes due to this hypoxia.

  • Vesicle Disintegration: In hypoxic environments, the hydrophobic NI molecules become hydrophilic, which leads to the quick disintegration of the vesicles, which are bubble-like formations. The vesicles containing insulin are released during this breakdown and enter the bloodstream immediately.

  • Blood Sugar Regulation: The released insulin aids in regulating blood sugar levels by promoting glucose absorption into cells and subsequently lowering blood glucose concentrations.

  • Tailored and Regulated Distribution: The patch can be adjusted to consider a person's weight and insulin sensitivity. By changing the amount of enzyme contained within each microneedle, the patch can be adjusted to release insulin within a particular blood glucose range.

Who Is the Ideal Candidate for the Smart Insulin Patch?

Those with Type-1 or advanced Type-2 diabetes who need frequent insulin injections, often several times a day, are the target audience for these patches. With them, one can prevent the discomfort of needle sticks and lower the chance of experiencing dangerously low blood sugar levels, which can happen with regular insulin injections.

It is crucial to remember that these patches can only be used with a prescription from a general practitioner or diabetologist who has been overseeing the patient's diabetes treatment. Furthermore, not all insurance policies will pay for these patches; therefore, using them should be advised by a medical professional.

What Are the Advantages of the Smart Insulin Patch Over Traditional Insulin Injections for Diabetes Treatment?

The smart insulin patch is superior to conventional insulin injections in several ways.

  • Painless Delivery: Unlike traditional injections, the patch's tiny microneedles pierce the skin without producing pain.

  • Precise Control: In response to variations in blood sugar, the patch reacts dynamically, delivering insulin only when necessary to keep glucose levels in ideal ranges.

  • Convenience: Patients can discreetly and continuously monitor their blood glucose and get insulin by wearing the patch anywhere on their body.

  • Decreased Risk: Compared to manual insulin doses, the patch reduces the chance of hypoglycemia or insulin overdose.

What Are the Future Prospects and Goals of Smart Insulin Patch Technology?

The investigators intend to carry out supplementary pre-clinical investigations and thereafter perform human clinical studies to assess the efficaciousness and safety of the intelligent insulin patch. Their ultimate goal is to create a smart insulin patch that only requires daily patient changes, providing a practical and efficient substitute for frequent insulin injections to treat diabetes. If successful, this technology might replace the painful and time-consuming manual blood sugar monitoring and frequent insulin injections that millions of individuals with diabetes would have to endure, greatly improving their quality of life.


Smart insulin patches offer a customized and effective insulin delivery method, making them a potential development in diabetes treatment. These patches have the potential to completely change how people with diabetes are treated by utilizing wearable technology and the concepts of glucose response. As research and development in this area advance, smart insulin patches have the potential to improve patient outcomes and quality of life, ushering in a new era of precision medicine for the treatment of diabetes

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Dr. Sugandh Garg
Dr. Sugandh Garg

Internal Medicine


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