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Nanospheres Deliver Insulin Through the Skin

McCarthy Takes 'Best Paper' Award for Breakthrough Technology

Stephen McCarthy

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Insulin has been administered transdermally for the first time in lab conditions, using hollow and biodegradable nanospheres developed at UMass Lowell - an advance that could lead to improved treatment of diabetes. The nanospheres were also successful in delivering insulin orally. Both reduced blood glucose levels in animal studies.

Prof. Stephen McCarthy, director of the Biodegradable Polymer Research Center, developed the new technology with research scientist Dr. Balint Koroskenyi. Prof. Robert Nicolosi, director of the Center for Health and Disease Research, directed the animal studies for drug delivery.

Diabetes is one of the most common and widespread diseases, affecting nearly six percent of the world's population. Complications make it the fourth most important cause of mortality and the main cause of permanent blindness. In the United States alone, 16 million people have diabetes. Most patients require three to four injections of insulin a day, leading to patient compliance problems and possible side effects. Taking insulin orally would be preferable, but developing a successful method is tremendously challenging because of conditions in the digestive tract. The ideal method would be transdermal insulin delivery.

McCarthy's presentation at the Medical Plastics Division of the Society of Plastics Engineers' annual technical conference won the Best Paper Award. The paper will be published in conference proceedings.

The nanospheres are made with a core and shell of contrasting amphiphilic and amphiphobic (water-loving and water-hating) polymers. The shells are crosslinked for strength and the cores degraded, then the nanospheres are infused with insulin.

"The nanospheres passed through the skin simply by rubbing on the preparation," says McCarthy. "In the oral version, the nanospheres composed of a carbohydrate shell were apparently able to protect the encapsulated insulin (which is a protein) from acids and enzymes without any additional coating. We think the drug is particularly stable when encapsulated; we actually freeze-dried the nanospheres with insulin and rehydrated them after a month, and the formulation was equally effective."

McCarthy and Nicolosi are exploring further applications and commercialization of the new approach, with the hope of significantly improving diabetes treatment.