A new diabetes medication is activated by blue light

Scientists have created a new light-activated medication for type two diabetes.

A patient takes the drug, which is a modified version of existing treatments, but it remains inactive in the body until blue LEDs attached to the patient’s skin are switched on. When they are, the drug changes shape, activating the pancreas to release a small amount of insulin in order to balance blood sugar and control the disease. When the lights are turned off, the drug becomes inactive again.

Making type two diabetes medication more effective is important because if the condition isn’t managed, it can lead to heart disease, stroke, or kidney, eye, or nerve damage. And that’s a risk for a large number of the population: approximately 350 million people worldwide have type two diabetes; 2.7 million of them in the UK.

Existing drugs sometimes release too much insulin, which causes blood sugar to drop too low. They can also cause unpleasant and potentially dangerous side effects to the brain and heart. Because this new medication is switched on and off, it delivers a smaller, more precise dose, and can be used only when it is needed, such as after a meal.

It was developed by Dr David Hodson and Professor Guy Rutter from Imperial College London and Professor Dirk Trauner and Dr Johannes Broichhagen from LMU Munich. So far the drug, which they’ve called JB253, is just a prototype, but they’ve used it successfully on pancreatic cells in lab experiments. They’re now working to make it available for human trials as soon as possible.

Image via Ludovic Bertron’s Flickr.

Diane Shipley