The American Diabetes Association has given a $1.625 million grant to Zhen Gu, a professor in the biomedical engineering department at NC State, to contribute to Gu’s research combating diabetes.

Gu’s research is centered on creating a system to regulate insulin delivery in proportion to blood glucose, which would be extremely useful for people afflicted with diabetes.

“The goal of this research is to create a system that will help diabetics regulate glucose and insulin levels in their body, but there are still several challenges that need to be overcome,” Gu said.

In addition, Gu said one of the main challenges his project faces is that the insulin delivery system needs to be easy to administer and also provide a quick response.

“One of the main challenges with the research is creating a system that is not only compatible with humans, but also easy to administer while also making sure that the system does not excessively release the insulin, which will cause hypoglycemia inside the body,” Gu said. 

Specifically, Gu’s delivery system is based on the natural insulin vesicles in the pancreas, and his goal is to develop synthetic insulin vesicles to help deliver the insulin.

Gu said the grant he received will primarily be put toward creating these artificial pancreatic cells which will deliver the insulin to the body. 

“We will apply this grant for developing brand-new formulation for glucose-responsive insulin delivery, artificial pancreatic cells,” Gu said. “Specifically, pre-clinical tests will be performed using large animal models.” 

Gu said his hope is to use the data that he receives and create ways that these artificial pancreatic cells can be administered to improve the quality of life for people with diabetes.

“We expect several formulations will be generated with the research and eventually we will translate it for improving diabetics’ quality of life,” Gu said. 

Diabetes is a condition that affects nearly 30 million people in United States, and the American Diabetes Association estimates that one in three Americans will suffer from diabetes by 2050 if the trend continues. 

The American Diabetes Association has also given grants to researchers at Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, the University of Notre Dame, the La Jolla Institute for Allergy and Immunology, the University of Colorado at Denver and the University of California at Berkeley. Gu’s grant will be applied over a period of five years. 

Sid Vadakkeveedu, a junior studying biomedical engineering who works in Gu’s lab, said the delivery system can significantly improve the lives of diabetics.

“I think the research will go a long way in improving the lives of people affected with diabetes,” Vadakkeveedu said. “It will significantly reduce all the time diabetics have to put into measuring their blood glucose, and having to do daily tests.”

Additionally Vadakkeveedu said Gu’s research will play a huge role in allowing diabetics to live a regular life without major testing.

“These artificial pancreatic cells will have a significant impact by diminishing the need for diabetics to constantly maintain their blood glucose as well as decreasing the time that diabetics have to spend in the hospital for checkups,” Vadakkeveedu said.