Chinese scientists use smartphone app to control, treat diabetes in mice

May 1, 2017

Researchers at the East China Normal University in Shanghaiused a smartphone application to remotely control the activity of living cells inside an animal, fusing biology and technology to control blood sugar levels in mice with diabetes.

The Chinese researchers said their approach could pave the way for a “new era of personalized, digitalized and globalized precision medicine” as the idea could be applied to a wide range of diseases and drug treatments.

The first step in the process was turning normal cells into living factories. They genetically engineered normal cells to manufacture drugs that control blood sugar levels such as insulin – but only in response to light.

The technology is called optogenetics and these cells would kick into gear when exposed to specific wavelengths of red light.

They used a set of wirelessly powered LEDs controlled by a smartphone app. They implanted the system into the mice and were able to control diabetes with the tap of a touchscreen.The scientists also needed to take tiny drops of blood to know how high the blood sugar levels were, so they could calculate how much drug to release inside the animal.

Their ultimate goal is a fully automated system that both detects sugar levels and then releases the right amount of therapeutic chemicals.

This idea is clearly at an early stage, but it is not limited to diabetes. Cells could be engineered to manufacture a wide range of drugs.

Prof. Mark Gomelsky, a molecular biologist from the University of Wyoming, said the study was an “exciting accomplishment”.

He added: “How soon should we expect to see people on the street wearing fashionable LED wristbands that irradiate implanted cells engineered to produce genetically encoded drugs under the control of a smartphone?Not just yet, but the work provides us with an exciting glimpse into the future of smart cell-based therapeutics.”


Category: Education, Features

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