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2020's Groundbreaking Developments in Diabetes Research

Diabetes is complicated, and, like many chronic conditions, it is one that science is always working on. Whether Type 1 or 2, there are countless factors to consider when it comes to the biology and logistics involved. We are lucky to live in a time when, despite these complexities, strides are being made every day towards more effective treatments. Researchers and doctors are constantly hard at work looking for and creating the next best ways for diabetics to live long, healthy, and full lives. All over the world, the brightest minds put their heads together to tackle the next steps, and the results are incredible. In the last few months alone, even amidst the interruptions of COVID-19 that affected labs everywhere, new developments are emerging left and right, a testament to the innovation, determination, and versatility of our doctors and researchers. We’ve curated a collection of the groundbreaking inventions and discoveries that are currently changing the world of diabetes care. 

Beta Cells May and Type 1 Diabetes Prevention

In Type 1 diabetes, beta cells, which make insulin, are attacked by the immune system. A new study by Joslin Diabetes Center researchers shows that inhibiting the protein renalase can protect these beta cells against stress, increasing their survival rates and ability to continue producing insulin. Even better, an already-FDA approved drug can safely do so. According to Medical Xpress and the JoslinDiabetes center, this drug was effective when used for this purpose on individual human cells and on mice, and they hope to move into human clinical trials soon. 

Smart Insulin Patch 

An article from Science Daily reports that UCLA bioengineers and colleagues at UNC School of Medicine and MIT have developed a coin-sized adhesive patch, to monitor and manage blood sugar levels in diabetics. The patch is equipped with doses of insulin that can be automatically injected via tiny needles in the patch to address out-of-range blood sugar levels. The input of insulin then slows as the blood glucose level reaches normal. This could be a game-changer for diabetics, who would no longer need to prick their finger and then decide on the necessary dosage of insulin, as everything would be done via the patch. 

This technology is still in development, but has been accepted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Emerging Technology Program, which will aid them in getting the approval for clinical human trials.

Artificial Pancreas System

Early this year, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved an artificial pancreas system that automatically monitors and regulates blood glucose levels. 

This device was created on the findings of a decade of research done by the University of Virginia Center for Diabetes Technology. It uses continuous glucose monitoring and automatically delivers insulin as needed, liberating the user from having to regularly stop to check blood sugar levels by sticking their finger.

The approval follows a clinical trial in which diabetic users of the artificial pancreas showed blood sugar levels in target range for significantly longer periods of time than did users of a continuous blood glucose monitor that did not automatically dispense insulin.

New Drug Shows Great Potential for Diabetes Treatment

A new drug candidate, tested by the University of Alabama at Birmingham and Southern Research, has shown great potential for advancing the treatment of diabetes, as reported by News Medical.

The experimental drug significantly improved several of the detrimental components of diabetes. It effectively stabilized blood sugar in mice that had diabetes induced by streptozotocin and obesity, demonstrating its potential to do the same for humans. Also working in its favor are the fact that the drug is orally bioavailable, meaning that it can easily absorbed into the body when taken by mouth, shows no cytotoxicity in vitro and no toxicity in mice, even at doses about 10 times higher than its therapeutic dose, and has already passed a range of other drug safety tests. In addition, its benefits have been shown for both Type 1 and 2 diabetes.

New Gene Regions Linked to Diabetic Kidney Disease

You may know that having uncontrolled diabetes can lead to kidney disease over time as a result of high blood glucose levels damaging the fragile blood vessels of the kidney. But according to Diabetes Self Management, research recently determined 16 areas of the human genome linked to diabetic kidney disease, including several that change the structure of kidney membranes. While the research is still in its preliminary stages, those involved believe it is a vital first step in preventing diabetic kidney disease. 

Early Detection of Diabetes-Induced Blindness...with a Smartphone?

One of the most devastating complications of diabetes is blindness. Damage to the retina caused by the degeneration of blood vessels around the eye, called retinopathy, can cause blindness, often in diabetic adults. In fact, according to the CDC, it is the leading cause of blindness in adults in the United States, with about 899,000 Americans affected. 

However, when the retinopathy is detected early enough and properly treated, vision loss is preventable. An international research team turned to the smartphone as a tool for affordable and accessible early detection. 

A smartphone camera, combined with an additional lens attached to it, is used to image the back of the eye and document deterioration. In clinical trials,  the technique detected early stages of damage 80% of the time and advanced damage 100% of the time.  

The research team is currently working on a smartphone application that would facilitate remote healthcare for retinopathy through storing and sending these images to specialists for analysis. This type of early detection and accessible treatment could be huge for a community in which many lack access to sufficient healthcare for a number of reasons, and will likely result in the prevention of vision loss for many diabetics. 

Diabetic Foot Consortium Established

One recent initiative that we are particularly excited about at Diabetic Sock Club is the launching of the first-ever multicenter to study the complications of diabetes on the feet. 

Six United States research institutions are taking part in the Diabetic Foot Consortium, funded and supported by the National Institutes of Health. These institutions include the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor; University of California, San Francisco; Stanford University, Palo Alto, California; University of Miami Miller School of Medicine; University of Pittsburgh; and Indiana University, Indianapolis.Their focus will be on diabetic foot ulcers, which are the leading cause of lower limb amputations in the United States. Up to 34% of people with diabetes will develop a foot ulcer in their lifetime, and half of foot ulcers become infected. Each year, about 100,000 Americans with diabetes lose part of a lower limb because a foot ulcer becomes infected or does not heal.  This is no small issue, and very much deserving of a dedicated team of researchers. They hope to improve diabetic wound healing, often slowed by poor circulation caused by diabetes, and prevent amputations among diabetics. Because diabetic foot ulcers typically require long-term care, during which infection can easily occur, the consortium will work to find ways to effectively treat the ulcers to reduce this time period and potential infections. 

“For people with diabetes, foot ulcers can be devastating and lead to even more devastating amputation. They affect quality of life and cost the United States up to $13 billion a year in care,” said NIDDK Director Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers, speaking to the National Institute of Health. “Finding biological clues from these ulcers to help tailor treatment to the individual will provide much-needed relief and could prevent future diabetic foot injuries.”

Stem Cell Research Shows Promise for Aiding Diabetic Wound Healing

Researchers at the University of California, Davis, has also been hard at work looking for ways to assist the healing of wounds, and foot ulcers in particular, in diabetic individuals. In doing so, they hope to reduce rates of amputation and subsequent complications among diabetics. According to Stem Cells Journals, the combination of human mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) combined with timolol, which is a drug commonly used to treat glaucoma, lead to incredible improvements in wound healing. Researchers created a bioengineered scaffolding of these two supplemental materials.The scaffolds were tested on the small, circular wounds of diabetic mice. They were inserted cell-side down into the wound and treated with different dosages of timolol, the idea being to supplement the regrowth of skin in the wound area. After 7 days, results showed that healing was accelerated by as much as 75 percent. This type of therapy shows great potential for healing both the foot ulcers and injuries of diabetics, and other stubborn wounds that may lead to amputation. 

The future of diabetes treatment has truly never been so promising. Even amidst tumultuous times, the developments achieved by the scientific and research community are beyond impressive, and only getting better. New devices, early detection, and focused research are sure to make living with diabetes a much easier experience for years and generations to come, and perhaps even prevent it all together. We are seeing change happen right before our eyes, and for that, we thank the doctors, researchers, and scientists working to make that change possible.

1 comment

  • I found this information absolutely fascinating. I think the insulin patch is brilliant and something I would love to try if it became available in the UK. After nearly 28 years of pricking parts of my body and injecting insulin anything like this would be great. The breakthroughs in Diabetes are unbelievable. I would like to thank everybody concerned with any research into any disease.
    Thank you
    Elizabeth

    Elizabeth Ferbs

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