Smartwatches could help control insulin production, treat diabetes in future

Using the green light of smart wearables, the researchers claim to switch on an insulin-producing gene network, an approach that they believe could be used to treat diabetes in the future.


Devdiscourse News Desk | Zurich | Updated: 07-06-2021 18:19 IST | Created: 07-06-2021 18:13 IST
Smartwatches could help control insulin production, treat diabetes in future
Representative image Image Credit: Flickr

A team of researchers at ETH Zurich have developed a gene switch that, once implanted, can be operated with the green LED light emitted by most of the commercially available smartwatches. Using the green light of smart wearables, the researchers claim to switch on an insulin-producing gene network, an approach that they believe could be used to treat diabetes in the future.

The team led by Martin Fussenegger from the Department of Biosystems Science and Engineering in Basel designed a green-light-operated molecular switch, given that a naturally occurring molecular system in human cells does not respond to green light.

"No naturally occurring molecular system in human cells responds to green light, so we had to build something new," explains Fussenegger.

The switch is then linked to a gene network that the researchers introduced into human cells. Depending on the configuration of the network, the switch can produce insulin or other substances as soon as the cells are exposed to green light. The switch remains inactive when the green light is turned off and the process comes to a halt.

To put their research to the test, the researchers implanted the appropriate cells into the pork rind as well as on live mice. Thereafter, they turned on the green light of the smartwatch by starting the running app.

As soon as the green light is emitted, the component that projects into the cell becomes detached and is transported to the cell nucleus where it triggers an insulin-producing gene. When the green light is extinguished, the detached piece reconnects with its counterpart embedded in the membrane.

"It's the first time that an implant of this kind has been operated using commercially available, smart electronic devices - known as wearables because they are worn directly on the skin, says Fussenegger. According to him, it seems unlikely that this approach will enter clinical practice for at least another ten years. The cells used in this prototype - HEK 293 - would have to be replaced by the user's own cells and the system has to go through the clinical phases before it gets approved.

The research titled "Smart-watch-programmed green-light-operated percutaneous control of therapeutic transgenes" is published in the journal Nature Communications.

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