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Grant to Fund Glucose-Sensitive Insulin Development

Diabetes Test (NIH)

(National Institutes of Health)

Case Western Reserve University’s medical school in Cleveland received a grant of almost $1 million for research to develop a fast-acting form of insulin that can respond to an individual’s glucose levels. The three-year grant from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust will fund the work of medical professor Michael Weiss, who also chairs the university’s biochemistry department.

Weiss and colleagues will examine the feasibility of developing a form of insulin that can tell if glucose levels of an individual with type 1 diabetes are too high or low, reducing the risk of hypoglycemia, or low glucose, which can occur if too much insulin is released into the bloodstream. In addition, complications of type 1 diabetes, such as blindness and kidney failure, can be delayed or prevented if glucose levels in the blood are more tightly controlled.

People living with type 1 diabetes constantly monitor their blood glucose levels, which are influenced by diet and exercise. If carboydrate consumption falls short of estimates made before the meal, or if the individual exercises more than expected, the insulin dose given before the meal can turn out to be too large leading to hypoglycemia.

Weiss’s team will investigate the reengineering of insulin molecules so they react to glucose levels and stay at the injection site until needed in the bloodstream. The researchers believe an insulin analog can be designed to reside under the skin and respond to glucose signals that indicate when it’s time be released.

Weiss notes that this type of “smart” insulin has generated a lot of interest in the past, but adds, “We may have a novel solution that uses an entirely new mechanism and avoids the pitfalls confronted by other approaches.” In addition, Weiss cofounded a company, Thermalin Diabetes LLC in Cleveland, that can take the product to market, if the initial research is successful. Weiss serves as the company’s chief scientist.

The Helmsley Charitable Trust funds research in type 1 diabetes and other disorders, as well as programs unrelated to science and health. The foundation’s support for research on type 1 diabetes aims to accelerate the development and commercialization of technologies for the management of the disorder, particularly promising early-stage solutions.  Eliot Brenner, director of the Helmsley Charitable Trust’s type 1 diabetes program says the foundation applies “a venture philanthropy approach to moving potentially impactful projects quickly through the pipeline of research to commercialization and, ultimately, to the patients who will benefit from these advances.”

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