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A Pocket-Sized Wireless Solution for Diabetes Treatment

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over 9.3 percent of Americans are diagnosed with diabetes.

They may have less to worry about, thanks to new implantable technology being developed at The Ohio State University. The ultimate goal of the research is to help diabetics regain the feeling of leading a normal life, by delivering controlled insulin microinjection treatments to patients in real time.

As part of a collaborative project with Cornell University, Ohio State electrical and computer engineering professor Liang Guo received a $250,000 two-year grant from the JDRF to help develop his proposal, “Wireless Implantable Electroactive Pump for Continuous Intraperitoneal Insulin Infusion.”

Guo's work could someday allow diabetics to carry around a small device that wirelessly tells their body when to increase or decrease insulin levels.

“The goal is to develop a wireless electroactive pump for Continuous Intraperitoneal Insulin Infusion via an external controller placed, for example, in the patient’s pocket,” Guo said.

Other collaborators on the project include fellow ECE professor John Volakis, Ohio State Internal Medicine professor Kathleen Dungan, and professor Minglin Ma of Cornell University.

Guo said conducting this research to help diabetic patients was motivated by his overall professional desire to “repair neurological disorders using engineering approaches.”

Having a healthy fascination for science fiction and mind-control machines as a boy ultimately led him to study the broad field of bioelectronic devices as an adult.

However, Guo said, his chosen field of research does present a few challenges. The technology is prone to instability and the science of implantable bioelectronic devices is limited when it comes to predicting the interface between electronics and biological tissues.

Normally, he said, implantable bioelectronic devices are expected to function as part of the body, interfacing over the entire lifespan of the person. From within, they continually monitor and target specific tissue and cellular levels.

To address the instability issue, Guo's research incorporates two engineering principles to make bioelectronic implants either “insensible” or “indistinguishable." Insensible refers to making the implant small enough so it is barely detected within the body. Likewise, indistinguishable refers to camouflaging the device materials enough to fool immune cells into functioning.

While the technology remains limited, Guo said, by using these principles the bioelectronic implant should be able to better surpass the immune rejection by mimicking the tissue environment both in physical and biochemical ways - in this case, tricking the body to increase or decrease insulin levels.

Guo said the future for implantable bioelectronic devices is quite strong. The ability to make the implants insensible by limiting the use of foreign materials in volume and area is also improving. Some materials are becoming indistinguishable through biomimicry approaches. Autologous materials, transferred from within the same person’s body, could also be utilized in the future.

“This could some day eliminate the use of any foreign materials at all,” Guo said. “The development of autologous biomedical devices promises a new horizon in modern medical technology.”


- Article contribution by student Abraham Bogere