They help organize our schedules, they keep us in touch with good (and bad) friends, and they barely leave our sides throughout the day. But can we exploit the ubiquitous nature of smartphones to facilitate personalized treatment of human disease? This is the hope of researchers from the laboratory of Haifeng Ye (East China Normal University Shanghai, China) who have recently developed a smartphone-controlled means to treat diabetes.
Current treatment strategies for diabetes involve inconvenient testing and hormone injections, which in general, represent a non-optimal means to maintain blood glucose levels within expected parameters. The exciting new strategy described by Shao et al employs the implantation of human cells engineered to produce specific hormones (Insulin or GLP-1) in response to specific wavelengths of light: a technology known as optogenetics.
That’s more than just a text message’s worth of information, so let’s break down all the steps in this smart new study. To develop this new treatment option:
- The authors first engineered mammalian cells to produce and excrete insulin (to treat type 1 diabetes) or glucagon-like peptide-1 (GLP-1) (to treat type 2 diabetes) in response to far-red light (FRL) signals
- The “optogenetic” expression system exploited the bacterial light-activated cyclic diguanylate monophosphate synthase BphS and the c-di-GMP–specific phosphodiesterase YhjH
- They then implanted the engineered cells under mouse skin alongside smartphone-activated FRL-LEDs (light-emitting diodes) within an alginate hydrogel
- A smartphone app then activates the FRL-LEDs whenever blood analysis detects alterations to glucose homeostasis, thus promoting production of Insulin or GLP-1 by the engineered cells and secretion into the bloodstream
- Long durations of low intensity light provided sufficient hormone expression to alter blood sugar levels with no unwanted side-effects
- Manual alterations to the intensity and duration of FRL-LED activity maintained glucose homeostasis over several weeks in a diabetic mouse model
- Finally, the authors applied a custom-engineered Bluetooth-active glucose-meter in conjunction with the smartphone system
- This system allows for automated RFL-LED activity in response to user-defined glycemic thresholds
This exciting new combination of smartphone technology and optogenetics represents a great step forward in personalized medicine, but leaves the researchers with a tricky decision: scale up their cell-engineered solution for human patients or invest in mouse smartphone technology!
For all the details on this fascinating new use for the ubiquitous smartphone, see Science Translational Medicine, April 2017.