Skip to main content


Can Artificial Cells Take Over for Lost Insulin-Secreting Cells?

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

artificial beta cells

Caption: Artificial beta cell, made of a lipid bubble (purple) carrying smaller, insulin-filled vesicles (green). Imaged with cryo-scanning electron microscope (cryo-SEM) and colorized.
Credit: Zhen Gu Lab

People with diabetes have benefited tremendously from advances in monitoring and controlling blood sugar, but they’re still waiting and hoping for a cure. Some of the most exciting possibilities aim to replace the function of the insulin-secreting pancreatic beta cells that is deficient in diabetes. The latest strategy of this kind is called AβCs, short for artificial beta cells.

As you see in the cryo-SEM image above, AβCs are specially designed lipid bubbles, each of which contains hundreds of smaller, ball-like vesicles filled with insulin. The AβCs are engineered to “sense” a rise in blood glucose, triggering biochemical changes in the vesicle and the automatic release of some of its insulin load until blood glucose levels return to normal.

In recent studies of mice with type 1 diabetes, researchers partially supported by NIH found that a single injection of AβCs under the skin could control blood glucose levels for up to five days. With additional optimization and testing, the hope is that people with diabetes may someday be able to receive AβCs through patches that painlessly stick on their skin.

Spiny Worm Inspires Next-Gen Band-Aid

Posted on by Dr. Francis Collins

Drawing of a lemon-yellow segmented worm with a spiny head adjacent to a photo of a transparent spiny square resting on top of a fingertip

Caption: Artist rendition of spiny headed worm │The adhesive patch with microneedles that swell
Source: The Karp Lab, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

Inspiration can come from some pretty strange sources. Case in point: a new adhesive Band-Aid inspired by Pomphorhynchus laevis, a spiny-headed worm that lives in the intestines of fish. The parasitic worm pokes its tiny, spiny, cactus shaped head through the intestinal lining and then inflates its head with fluid to stay anchored.

Using the same principle, the team at the Boston-based Brigham and Women’s Hospital created an adhesive patch with needles that swell up when they get wet, interlocking with the tissue. When this sticky patch is applied to anchor skin grafts that have just been placed over an area of injury or burn, it is three times stronger than surgical staples—and it causes less damage to soft tissues. Because it penetrates about one fourth the depth of staples, it should also be less painful to remove.