Putting a lock on blood-sugar management

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Yen-Shan Chen, Ph.D., Case Western Reserve University, is designing a sugar-sensing lock to regulate insulin activity

JDRF is dedicated to making insulin therapy safer and less burdensome while we develop a cure for type 1 diabetes (T1D). For example, what if insulin could finely tune blood-glucose control without the risk of going too low? We think it can, and biochemist Dr. Chen agrees. With a new three-year postdoctoral fellowship from JDRF, Dr. Chen is engineering a fully reversible chemical tether that locks insulin in an inactive state when blood-glucose levels are within a healthy range. When blood-sugar levels rise, the tether loosens, allowing insulin to enter an active state, and when they fall again, the tether tightens, shutting down insulin activity to prevent dangerous lows.

“This novel insulin will help to alleviate the need for constant blood-glucose monitoring and strict dietary scheduling for people living with T1D. The goal is to regulate blood glucose just like the pancreas does,” Dr. Chen explains.

Dr. Chen’s project represents one of several innovative approaches to developing glucose-responsive insulins (GRIs). Other approaches involve polymers, gels or microparticles that release insulin only when blood sugar is high, perhaps using additional glucose-sensing molecules to increase their sensitivity to blood-sugar changes.

“Many elite investigators are working very hard to develop new methods for making this disease treatable and also curable,” says Dr. Chen. “JDRF provides a great platform to organize researchers worldwide to focus on this effort. I believe quality of life for people with T1D will be highly improved in the future. And I hope soon it will be like T1D never happened.”

Those words are music to our ears. JDRF is an organization of and for people with T1D, and no one wants to put an end to this disease more than we do. Find out how we are creating a world without T1D, and meet more of the scientists like Dr. Chen who are taking up the call.

By Monica Harrington