Dr. Peter Light at the University of Alberta has developed genetically engineered adipocytes that secrete significant amounts of bioactive insulin upon exposure to a particular wavelength of blue light. Insulin secretion is specific and very little insulin is secreted in the absence of light. This technology is currently being evaluated as an insulin replacement therapy in diabetes, where a patient’s own adipocytes can be functionalized and transplanted back into the abdomen. Proof-of-concept experiments in insulin-deficient animal models are currently ongoing.
Patients with Type I diabetes comprise 10% of the diabetic population. Due to the destruction of their pancreatic beta-cells, these patients are unable to produce their own insulin and in order to control their blood sugar levels, they must obtain insulin from an external source. Conventional insulin administration is injected via a syringe but this poses a limitation on the lifestyle of diabetes patients. Thus, a continuous insulin supplementation strategy is preferred. For patient-specific cell therapy, adipocytes are an excellent source of cells due to their biological availability, longevity, and ease of isolation and re-implantation. This technology delivers an in vivo supply of insulin that can be controlled by an external non-invasive light source.