Wireless diabetes control? There's an app for that!


 This experiment is the cover story of the April 26th edition of  Science Translational Medicine.

A group of ECNU research scientists led by Professor Ye Haifeng of the Biomedical Sciences Institute’s Shanghai Key Laboratory of Regulatory Biology discovered a new technique to precisely control cells that can deliver insulin to mice with diabetes. The results of this experiment were found through a combination of the optogenetics’ cellular processes and newly developed smartphone applications. This experiment was the cover story of the April 26th edition of the well-known international journal Science Translational Medicine. After its publication, the findings of the experiment were widely acclaimed by many of the ECNU researchers’ international peers in the field who hail it as “an outstanding example” and “an amazing study”.

Prof.Ye(L) is the communication author and his student Shao Jiabo(R) is the first author of the paper.

Optogenetics is a process by which insulin is voluntarily delivered through an organism’s body to continuously monitor blood glucose levels in human diabetes. According to the field-scientists, the process of optogenteics automatically produces the necessary insulin that a hormone needs in order to convert the proper amount of sugar into energy that the body can use for consumption. 

The researchers of this study initially took some living tissues from other cell organisms and combined them with new forms of scientific technology; for instance, they found that when the cells were illuminated by a “far-red light” (the same wave lengths emitted by therapy bulbs and infrared saunas) the cells of any organism could effectively produce the necessary levels of insulin. The researchers then added those cells to a soft bio-compatible sheath that contained wireless powered red LED lights generated by the Hydroge LEDs that could be turned on and off by the mechanical process of the external electromagnetic field.

Implanting the Hydroge LEDs into the skin of the mice with diabetes allowed Professor Ye and his colleagues to observe the insulin doses from the touch of a smartphone application. They not only custom-coded the control algorithms of the smartphone, but also designed the engineered cells to produce insulin without any “cross-talk” between normal cellular processing signals. 

Scientists discover a new technique to precisely control cells that can deliver insulin to mice with diabetes.

In another small pilot experiment, the scientists also utilized the Bluetooth application of the smartphone to monitor the blood glucose meter of each organism over a period of several weeks. This allowed for instant feedback between the therapeutic cells and the diagnostic device that helped diabetic animals rapidly achieve and maintain stable blood glucose levels. The authors say that successfully linking digital signals with engineered cells is an important step toward translating similar cell-based therapies into every clinic and science lab around the world.

Optogenetics is an emerging and developing field in most scientific experimentation observatories. The whole process takes proteins that are sensitive to light to regulate biological activities throughout the body. It is claimed by some scientists to be a likely potential factor to treat a range of severe diseases, including Parkinson’s and Schizophrenia. 

The researchers say the system was inspired by the “smart home” concept, a smartphone application that can control all of the electronic devices in one’s home, such as the electricity, heating, and any other energy-powered devices.

Professor Ye has specialized in the study of synthetic biology and biomedical engineering for years.

Professor Ye, the main author of the research paper, said his ambition towards this scientific development is to realize a “voluntary blood glucose monitoring and diabetes therapy system”; of which, can monitor diabetes 24 hours a day via data that can be shared by smartphones. So if human cells can be genetically engineered into working-style factories that efficiently manufacture and deliver hormones, then the interaction of newly developed digital sensors, molecular signals, and cell activity can offer a greater amount of sensitivity and precision than most synthetic biological circuits of traditional lab experiments. The results of the new study prove that there is a potential for constant innovation in finding new ways to treat diabetes; due to the fact that there are more than 415 million people living with diabetes in the world, who are required insulin treatment every day, it is essential that scientists continue to strive for the most efficient methods.

Professor Ye has specialized in the research of synthetic biology and biomedical engineering through his study at ECNU. He also conducted doctoral and postdoctoral research at ETH Zurich in Switzerland from August 2007 to December 2013 to which he returned to his alma-mater in February 2014, to work as a mentor for Ph.D candidates of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of ECNU. He also works with the research team at the Shanghai Key Laboratory of Regulatory Biology as a research scientist. During the past three years he has published a variety of research papers for world-acclaimed journals such as Science Translational Medicine, Nature Biomedical Engineering, and Molecular Therapy


East China Normal University