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Highlights of New Devices for Diabetes Care Studied and Tested

With 16 million American diabetics, pharmaceutical firms are testing dozens of new devices, drugs and products to attack the disease and grab a piece of the market. Highlights: -An insulin pill has tantalized scientists for 70 years, but a new version may finally go where the others failed. Chemical engineers at Purdue University say they have developed a polymer, or plastic, to shepherd insulin past the stomach, where digestive acid normally destroys it.

The polymer in acid collapses into a tight ball that traps the insulin. In about 30 minutes, the pill reaches the non-acidic intestine, where the polymer expands to release the insulin.

The pill has worked in rats and dogs, but so far it has been hard to predict how much insulin will be absorbed and how fast. Also, at least 85 percent gets wasted.

-Sprayable insulin works just like a sore throat spray. The insulin mist is fine enough to sink in through the lining of the mouth. So far, only 10 to 20 percent gets absorbed, researchers say. A spray called Oralin is advanced in research but still four years away.

-An insulin patch has worked in animal testing but less well on humans. The insulin molecule is long and does not penetrate our skin easily, so ultrasound waves have been used to make the skin more porous and able to absorb it. Even so, only a fraction of the insulin makes it through and the method causes skin side effects.

-Transplants of islet cells – insulin factories in the pancreas – have freed diabetics from syringes, but not for long. The body often rejects them, or the cells die before the transplant. New work at the University of Miami’s Diabetes Research Institute keeps the cells alive for 36 hours before the transplant.