A team led by GE Research and including The Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, UCLA Samueli School of Engineering, Yale School of Medicine, and Albany Medical College has demonstrated the potential to prevent or reverse the onset of diabetes in preclinical model systems.
The team's findings, published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, represent a significant milestone in the field of bioelectronic medicine, which aims to treat chronic diseases like diabetes using electronic devices to manipulate the body's nervous system.
According to the World Health Organization, more than 650 million adults worldwide are obese, making them vulnerable to a range of medical conditions and leaving an urgent need for treatments, yet there are currently no long-lasting therapeutic options available.
Obesity leads to the production of pro-inflammatory markers, like cytokine proteins, which are associated with hyperglycemia, insulin resistance, and hypertension, as well as reduced vagus nerve activity and metabolic dysfunction.
For the past six years, GE Research has been a leader in ultrasound-based bioelectronic medicine, developing a non-invasive stimulation technique that uses ultrasound to stimulate specific neural pathways within organs related to the disease. The diabetes studies reported in Nature Biomedical Engineering were supported in part by the Biological Technologies Office of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
Christopher Puleo, a senior biomedical engineer at GE Research who co-led the diabetes studies and a corresponding author of the Nature Biomedical Engineering article, stated, “We have shown that ultrasound can be used to prevent or reverse diabetes in these preclinical studies. We’re now in the midst of human feasibility trials with a group of Type-2 diabetic subjects, which begins our work toward clinical translation.” He added that the use of ultrasound could potentially revolutionize the way bioelectronic medicines are applied to diseases like Type-2 diabetes in the future, offering a non-pharmaceutical, device-based alternative to current drug treatments.
The diabetes studies have been a collaborative effort among all partners, beginning with GE studies that showed initial results using ultrasound-prototype devices with diabetic models. This work was then expanded through a DARPA-funded program, followed by additional work at partner sites investigating the specific ion channels associated with the ultrasound effect, the direct effects of ultrasound stimulation on nerve activity, the effect of ultrasound treatment in a second and third model, and the magnitude of the effect on blood glucose.
Sangeeta Chavan, a professor at the Feinstein Institutes and one of the senior authors of the paper, said, “There are no long-lasting clinical treatments in tackling diabetes.
This exciting research is a major step forward to harness a novel approach of using ultrasound stimulation and bioelectronic medicine to alleviate and potentially reverse a disease that affects millions worldwide.” Stavros Zanos, an associate professor at the Feinstein Institutes and another senior author on the paper, added that this research also begins to bridge the gap in understanding the short-term and long-term physiological and metabolic effects of neuromodulation, a crucial aspect in optimizing and deploying clinically neuromodulation therapies.
Raimund Herzog, an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine and a member of the Yale Diabetes Research Center, noted that while there is already a variety of anti-diabetic medications available to treat high glucose levels, there are only a few drugs that can improve insulin sensitivity in diabetes.
If the ongoing clinical trials confirm the promise of the preclinical studies and ultrasound can be used to lower insulin and glucose levels, ultrasound neuromodulation will represent a new addition to current treatment options.
Dino Di Carlo, a study co-author and bioengineering professor at the UCLA Samueloi School of Engineering, stated that their studies indicate that focused ultrasound activates neurons.
Key Takeaway: The findings from this study are highly exciting and could lead to an innovative, non-invasive way to treat Type-2 diabetes. The use of ultrasound as a new therapeutic option for physicians and patients could be a game-changer in the future of bioelectronic medicine and its application to disease treatment. The team's ongoing clinical trials will determine the potential of ultrasound neuromodulation in lowering insulin and glucose levels, which could lead to a completely new avenue for treating diabetes.