Updated 23 February 2017

UKZN scientists develop a new diabetes controlling skin patch

UKZN scientists have developed a new skin patch that controls the release of insulin into the bloodstream, potentially doing away with the need for needles.


University of KwaZulu-Natal, UKZN scientists have developed a new skin patch that could keep diabetics from having to take daily insulin injections.

“In 2010, UKZN’s Professor Cephas Musabayane and Mr. Mark Tufts reported the discovery of a new method to administer insulin into the bloodstream via a skin patch.

Hailed as an innovative finding, Musabayane and his team have now built on the previous study and have reported the development of insulin-containing dermal patches capable of sustained controlled delivery of insulin into the bloodstream.

Read: Inhaled medication Afrezza approved to treat diabetes

The study, conducted by scientists in UKZN’s Discipline of Human Physiology with Professor Musabayane as principle investigator,  was designed to establish whether application of pectin insulin-containing dermal patches sustain controlled release of insulin into the bloodstream of streptozotocin (STZ) induced diabetic rats as well as alleviate some diabetic symptoms.

The scientists found that after 5 weeks of daily treatment with insulin-containing dermal patches, neither inflammation nor necrosis was detected in the skin of the rats.

The density of phosphorylated insulin receptor substrates (IRS) in skin tissues by immunohistochemical staining was also investigated.

Read: Insulin pill research looks promising

It was found that the widespread localization of IRS in cell bodies of the dermis, collagen and subcutaneous layer evoked by PI-containing dermal patches suggested that the pectin hydrogel insulin patch has the potential to deliver insulin across the skin and into the blood stream.

The findings are of considerable importance because application of insulin-containing dermal patches would free diabetic patients from daily bolus injections needed to maintain a constant insulin concentration.

The pectin insulin (PI)-containing dermal hydrogel matrix patch would also provide patients with pain-free self-administration of insulin thereby improving compliance.

Read: This gene affects insulin response 

Musabayane said, ‘A PI hydrogel matrix patch formulation will be easy to use and will not require elaborative devices to prevent drug leakage as in solution formulations. The pectin hydrogel matrix cocktail comprised of low methoxy (LM) pectin gelled with calcium ions, insulin, a transdermal transfer enhancing agent and an antioxidant.

The patch concoction did not show any detrimental effects on the morphology of underlying tissues of the skin as evidenced from histological observations.’

‘We believe that our findings are significant and pave the way for diabetic patients to control their insulin levels in a pain-free manner with reduced negative side effects. The pectin insulin-containing dermal patches delivered physiologically relevant amounts of pharmacologically active insulin,’” stated the press release.

However, further investigations involving in vivo insulin efficacy studies are required.

Read: Insulin pumps better for diabetic kids

Health24 spoke to Professor Musabayane regarding the patch and the remaining challenges before it is taken to market.

“The objective will be to compare the ability of transdermal PI patch and s.c. insulin to lower blood glucose. This will help us to understand how we can control the dose of insulin that is delivered to the blood more precisely and examine how this technique can be improved to control blood glucose levels over a longer time period,” Musabayane said.

“The following areas are also still to be investigated amongst others: hardening of the patch gel; stability of patch/drug over time in different conditions; susceptibility to bacterial and fungal invasion over time; ability to deliver drug in required doses after prolonged storage in different conditions.”

Read more:

African kids given free insulin
Chilli could boost insulin control
Insulin a factor in breastmilk production
How do vapour patches for cold and flu work?

Image: Professor Musabayane and his team at KZN


Read Health24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Ask the Expert

Diabetes expert

Dr. May currently works as a fulltime endocrinologist and has been in private practice since 2004. He has a variety of interests, predominantly obesity and diabetes, but also sees patients with osteoporosis, thyroid disorders, men's health disorders, pituitary and adrenal disorders, polycystic ovaries, and disorders of growth. He is a leading member of several obesity and diabetes societies and runs a trial centre for new drugs.

Still have a question?

Get free advice from our panel of experts

The information provided does not constitute a diagnosis of your condition. You should consult a medical practitioner or other appropriate health care professional for a physical exmanication, diagnosis and formal advice. Health24 and the expert accept no responsibility or liability for any damage or personal harm you may suffer resulting from making use of this content.

* You must accept our condition

Forum Rules