Lachlan Cornell

In 2013, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) published an article highlighting the potential benefits nanotechnology could have on people with diabetes. You can view that article here. The idea was that the nanoparticles inside the body would be able to detect glucose levels and respond by releasing the appropriate amount of insulin. This removes the need for Type 1 diabetics to prick their fingers – drawing blood – to detect glucose levels. Ultimately, this system would ensure that blood-sugar levels remain balanced and improve the quality of life of Type 1 diabetics. Back in 2013, they originally started testing on mice that had Type 1 diabetes. Skip forward to today and the CSIRO has just released news that nanomachines have been enlisted to fight diabetes. The folks had MIT were certainly onto something.

Leader of the project at CSIRO, Dr Colin Scott explains how they perfected the process and how he thinks once trialled commercially, how it could have an immense impact on the lives of all diabetics.

‘The successful process was achieved by assembling a series of enzymes, each one doing just one chemical conversion, and passing the product onto the next enzyme in series. The enzymes were arranged in compartments, with each compartment containing enzymes for one chemical step. The compartments were then assembled in the correct sequence to convert glycerol, a readily available and cheap chemical, into D-fagomine. We expect that once trialled commercially it could reduce the cost of producing anti-diabetic drugs’.

Now the process and the principles of nanomachines are understood, the team are looking for partners to begin commercial trials.

Understanding diabetes

There are many different types of diabetes. All are equally serious, however, the most common types are Type 1 & Type 2, which together account for 90-95% of all cases. Diabetes Australia provides the following definitions for Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes.

Type 1

Type 1 diabetes is an auto-immune condition in which the immune system is activated to destroy the cells in the pancreas which produce insulin. We do not know what causes this auto-immune reaction. Type 1 diabetes is not linked to modifiable lifestyle factors. There is no cure and it cannot be prevented.

Type 2

Type 2 diabetes is a progressive condition in which the body becomes resistant to the normal effects of insulin and/or gradually loses the capacity to produce enough insulin in the pancreas. We do not know what causes type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with modifiable lifestyle risk factors. Type 2 diabetes also has strong genetic and family-related risk factors.

Nanotechnology in other areas

Nanotechnology in the medicine world is growing rapidly and has immense potential. Most future applications of nanotech are still only in the research and development or early trial stage. Scientists and other healthcare professionals are currently working on nanotech that can help detect and fight cancer as well as stop internal bleeding. Using nanotech to fight diabetes is a huge step forward for nanotech and for medicine. I think it is likely that nanotech will hold a crucial role in the future of many areas of medicine.

Lachlan Cornell
Freelance Writer