To help people manage their type 1 diabetes, we need to design a new type of insulin that works quicker and more precisely to improve control of blood sugar levels.
The next generation of insulins
One of the challenges of closely managing blood glucose levels is that injected insulin takes longer to get to work than insulin produced naturally in the pancreas. Another challenge is ensuring the amount of insulin is just right for the amount of blood glucose present to keep it at a safe level.
To combat this, scientists are working on developing new types of insulin called novel insulins. The term novel insulins is used to describe two new types: ultra-rapid insulin and smart insulin.
As the name suggests, ultra-rapid insulins work far quicker than the insulin that is currently available. The latest ultra-rapid insulins in production reduce the time taken to reach the blood from 10-15 minutes down to 4-7 minutes.
Reducing this delay even further would enable hybrid-closed loops to respond in real-time to rising blood glucose levels, without the user manually entering their food and exercise information.
Smart insulins are also known as glucose-responsive insulins because they respond to the amount of glucose in the blood. The research for smart insulins is still at a very early stage, but they could one day relieve people with type 1 from the burden of glucose monitoring.
People with type 1 would take one dose of smart insulin in the morning, which would stay in the body in a sleep-like state until their glucose levels rise. When the smart insulin detects this glucose, it would spring into action to remove it from the blood and store it in the liver. Once the blood glucose levels are stabilised, the smart insulin would return to its resting state again.
Having smart insulin lying in wait for glucose would be similar to having a functioning pancreas that only releases insulin when it is needed. Ultimately, smart insulin could precisely manage blood glucose levels, preventing hypos and hypers as well as reducing the risk of diabetes-related complications.
The Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge is funding £15m towards research that develops the next generation of novel insulins. The research will cover both ultra-rapid insulin and smart insulin as both would make life easier for people with type 1 in different ways.
Our research into ultra-rapid insulin will remove some of the psychological demand from type 1 and lead to hybrid-closed loop systems that can operate automatically without needing extra information.
Meanwhile, we will fund leading researchers to develop smart insulins that can be taken once a day in the form of a pill or injection to treat type 1 while we continue to research other areas to find a cure.