A new hope for diabetes patients: ultrasound as a potential cure
[Apr. 6, 2023: Staff Writer, The Brighter Side of News]
Researchers demonstrated the ability to prevent or reverse the onset of diabetes. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)
Are we moving closer to the day when diabetes is no longer monitored and managed with blood sugar tests, insulin injections and drug treatments?
Diabetes is a chronic disease that affects millions of people worldwide. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the number of people with diabetes has risen from 108 million in 1980 to 650 million in 2022. Diabetes is a condition that occurs when the body cannot produce or properly use insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels.
Diabetes can lead to serious complications such as heart disease, kidney failure, blindness, and amputations. It often leaves people vulnerable to a number of medical comorbidities and despite an urgent need for treatments, no specific long-lasting therapeutic approaches are currently available.
While there is currently no cure for diabetes, researchers are exploring new ways to manage the disease. One promising development is the use of ultrasound to treat diabetes.
What is Ultrasound?
Ultrasound is a non-invasive medical procedure that uses high-frequency sound waves to create images of the inside of the body. The sound waves are emitted by a small handheld device called a transducer, which is placed on the skin. The sound waves travel through the body and bounce back to the transducer, creating images on a computer screen.
Ultrasound has been used for many years to diagnose and monitor medical conditions such as pregnancy, heart disease, and cancer. It is a safe and painless procedure that does not use radiation, making it an attractive option for medical imaging.
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How Ultrasound Can Cure Diabetes
Researchers are exploring how ultrasound can be used to treat diabetes by targeting the pancreas, the organ responsible for producing insulin. The pancreas is located deep in the abdomen, making it difficult to access with traditional medical treatments. However, ultrasound can penetrate deep tissue, allowing it to reach the pancreas.
One approach researchers are using is called histotripsy. Histotripsy is a technique that uses high-intensity ultrasound waves to destroy tissue. In the case of diabetes, researchers are using histotripsy to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce glucagon, a hormone that raises blood sugar levels. By destroying these cells, the body can better regulate blood sugar levels, reducing the need for insulin.
Another approach researchers are exploring is called sonoporation. Sonoporation is a technique that uses ultrasound to create tiny pores in cell membranes, allowing drugs or other substances to enter the cells more easily. In the case of diabetes, researchers are using sonoporation to deliver insulin-producing cells directly to the pancreas. This approach could potentially eliminate the need for daily insulin injections.
Using ultrasound to cure diabetes has several potential benefits. First, it is a non-invasive procedure that does not require surgery, making it safer and less invasive than traditional treatments. Second, it has the potential to be more effective than current treatments, as it can target the specific cells in the pancreas responsible for producing insulin. Finally, it could potentially eliminate the need for daily insulin injections, which can be a burden for people with diabetes.
The Challenges of Using Ultrasound to Cure Diabetes
While ultrasound has the potential to be an effective treatment for diabetes, there are several challenges that researchers must overcome. One challenge is ensuring that the ultrasound waves only target the cells in the pancreas that need to be destroyed or treated. If the ultrasound waves affect other cells in the body, it could cause unintended side effects.
Another challenge is ensuring that the ultrasound waves are strong enough to be effective, but not so strong that they cause damage to surrounding tissue. Researchers must carefully calibrate the ultrasound waves to ensure that they are safe and effective.
Finally, researchers must ensure that the ultrasound treatment is long-lasting and does not require frequent repeat treatments. If the treatment is not long-lasting, it may not be an effective option for people with diabetes.
Despite the challenges, researchers are optimistic about the potential of using ultrasound to cure diabetes. There have been several promising studies in animal models, and clinical trials in humans are currently underway.
One study published in the journal Scientific Reports in 2019 showed that histotripsy could effectively reduce blood glucose levels in diabetic mice. The researchers used histotripsy to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce glucagon, resulting in improved blood sugar control. The researchers noted that the procedure was safe and did not cause any adverse effects.
Another study published in the journal Diabetes in 2021 used sonoporation to deliver insulin-producing cells to the pancreas of diabetic pigs. The researchers found that the procedure was effective in restoring blood sugar control in the pigs, and the cells remained functional for at least six months.
Clinical trials in humans are also underway. In one study, researchers are using histotripsy to destroy the cells in the pancreas that produce glucagon in people with type 1 diabetes. The study is currently recruiting participants and is expected to be completed in 2023.
Ultrasound technology can be used modulate the body’s nervous system. (CREDIT: General Electric)
In another study, Christopher Puleo, a senior biomedical engineer at GE Research and a corresponding author of a Nature Biomedical Engineering article, is excited about the progress that his team has made to demonstrate a potential new treatment for diabetes, stating, “We have shown that ultrasound can be used to prevent or reverse diabetes in these preclinical studies. We’re now in the midst of human feasibility trials with a group of Type-2 diabetic subjects, which begins our work toward clinical translation.”
“The use of ultrasound could be a game-changer in how bioelectronic medicines are used and applied to disease, such as Type- 2 diabetes, in the future,” Puleo added. “Non-pharmaceutical and device-based methods to augment or replace the current drug-treatments may add a new therapeutic choice for physicians and patients in the future.”
Pictured (left to right): GE Research’s Victoria Cotero, Senior Scientist in Biosciences; Jeffrey Ashe, a senior electrical engineer; and Christopher Puleo, a senior biomedical engineer, around a prototype of the Research Lab’s ultrasound modulation device at GE’s research campus in Niskayuna, NY. (CREDIT: General Electric)
Dino Di Carlo, study co-author and bioengineering profressor at the UCLA Samueloi School of Engineering, said, “Our studies indicate that the focused ultrasound activates neurons through ion channels that are sensitive to mechanical forces. This is a completely new avenue to interface with our body and treat disease.”
Following the reported preclinical studies, GE Research and its collaborators have been engaged in additional preclinical and initial clinical studies that investigate the effects of alternate dosing (i.e., type of ultrasound pulse and duration of treatment) . The team will report on those studies later this year.
While there are challenges that researchers must overcome, clinical trials in humans are currently underway, and researchers are optimistic about the potential of using ultrasound to cure diabetes. If successful, this could be a significant breakthrough in the treatment of diabetes, improving the quality of life for millions of people worldwide.
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