Current research is underway that involves engineering pancreatic beta cells, which are activated by blue light that causes the cells to increase the amount of insulin produced.
Diabetes currently affects more than 30 million Americans and is the cause of 4.1 million cases of diabetic retinopathy in the United States . The beta cells in type I diabetes are destroyed by the immune system resulting in a complete lack of production of insulin, which is a hormone that plays a critical role in specifically controlling the circulating glucose levels. Researchers were looking for a new method of increasing insulin production while keeping the crucial real-time link between the release of insulin and concentration of glucose in the bloodstream.
The Tufts University researchers successfully transplanted the pancreatic beta cells they engineered under the skin of diabetic mice and then exposed the mice to blue light. The result was the two to three times increase in the amount of insulin that was produced. The blue light acted as a "genetic switch" that turned on the adenylate cyclase gene within the pancreatic beta cells.
Researchers are encouraged by initial study findings and hope that additional studies will eventually result in the therapy allowing the body to regulate insulin levels without continuous monitoring and avoiding the peaks and valleys of blood sugar levels that come with the current insulin therapies.*