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Researchers at ETH Zurich have developed an insulin delivery system that relies on music as a trigger. The unusual technology is based on calcium ion channels that typically reside in the cell membrane. Such channels are sensitive to mechanical deformation and these researchers discovered that sound waves will activate the channels. When insulin-producing cells are genetically modified to express this channel, they will experience an influx in calcium ions when music is played close by, prompting them to release insulin. The concept could be useful as a treatment for diabetes, whereby such cells, housed in a specialized capsule, are implanted in patients who can then use music externally to trigger insulin release when required.

Researchers are developing an array of advanced implantable technologies that could remove the constant struggle of those living with diabetes. While an artificial pancreas sounds cool, what about just blasting “We Will Rock You” by Queen into your belly at full volume every time you need an insulin pick-me-up?

The idea sounds bizarre, but these researchers have discovered that their sound-responsive cells are highly attuned to specific pieces of music, with the winning piece, thankfully, being the aforementioned hit by Queen. The technology is still in its infancy, but may represent an alternative route to new treatments for diabetes.

The calcium ion channel in question derives from E. coli bacteria, and is highly responsive to mechanical deformation, in this case provided by the voice of Freddie Mercury. Once opened, the channel allows calcium ions to rush into the cell, which in turn causes insulin-filled vesicles to fuse with the cell membrane and release their contents into the external environment.

So far, so good, but what if a patient with such implanted cells is exposed to “We Will Rock You” or other loud noise while going about their everyday business? Thankfully, the system requires a speaker to be placed right over the location of the cell implant, and ambient noise is highly unlikely to trigger insulin release.

In tests so far, “We Will Rock You” triggered about 70% of the onboard insulin to be released within 15 minutes, whereas other tested music produced a more modest release. The technique still requires a lot of refinement before it is likely to see use in patients, but could represent a less complex and minimally invasive way to produce on-demand insulin release.  

Study in journal The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology: Tuning of cellular insulin release by music for real-time diabetes control

Via: ETH Zurich

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