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New glucagon formula may be suitable for the artificial pancreas

September 4, 2012 in News

As you know, glucagon is a naturally occurring hormone that normally protects the body from hypoglycemia by raising blood sugar levels when they dip below a healthy level. In someone without diabetes, glucagon and insulin complement each other, responding to fluctuations in blood sugar to keep glucose levels within a healthy range.

In people with type 1 diabetes, glucagon regulation is impaired, raising the risk of a serious hypoglycemic event. The hormone is widely available commercially, and previous research has suggested that adding small injections of glucagon to treatment for type 1 diabetes can reduce the frequency of hypoglycemia. When both glucagon and insulin are included in the treatment plan, the effect produced is similar to the physiology of someone without diabetes.

Commercially available glucagon doesn’t stay liquid for long after the powder and solution are combined; it needs to be used immediately and therefore cannot be held in a pump system.

One research team, based at Oregon Health & Science University, has now successfully developed a stable liquid form of glucagon. By increasing the pH of the solution (making it more basic/alkaline), they were able to keep the mixture stable for a long period of time. More research will be needed before this form is available commercially, but the discovery has significant implications.

A stable liquid form of glucagon means the possibility of portable pumps for diabetics that contain both glucagon and insulin. This is of special interest to the research teams working on the development of the artificial pancreas. The artificial pancreas, which combines an insulin pump with both a continuous glucose monitor and sophisticated computer software, can only deliver a single hormone. The glucagon breakthrough means that future generations of the artificial pancreas could deliver more than one hormone, allowing quick response to both dips and spikes in blood glucose levels, much more closely matching the function of a non-diabetic pancreas.

If you’d like to read more about the artificial pancreas, you can read my earlier post here. The ScienceDaily news release can be found on their website.

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