JDRF-funded researchers at Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) and Legacy Health have discovered a liquid glucagon formulation that may be useable in standard diabetes pumps. Such a formulation could broaden the use of glucagon to help prevent hypoglycemia in people with type 1 diabetes (T1D) who are treated with insulin. It could also open a path to future-generation artificial pancreas systems that dispense more than just insulin for optimizing glucose control.
"Our previous studies have shown that the injections of small amounts of glucagon prevent hypoglycemia, which is a frequent and serious complication of type 1 diabetes that can lead to seizures, loss of consciousness, and even death," said W. Kenneth Ward, M.D., associate professor of medicine (endocrinology, diabetes, and clinical nutrition) at OHSU School of Medicine and senior scientist at Legacy Health, the two Portland, OR-based organizations that collaborated on the study. The research was presented at the American Diabetes Association's (ADA) 72nd Scientific Sessions on Friday, June 8, and on Sunday, June 10, in Philadelphia.
Dr. Ward continues: "Current forms of glucagon cannot be kept for long periods of time in a portable pump, and therefore could not be used as part of an artificial pancreas system. While it is important to note that additional studies will be undertaken in animals and humans before FDA approval can be sought, we have found that the alkaline glucagon compound we discovered can be kept in liquid form for long periods of time, potentially opening pathways for use in bi-hormonal diabetes pumps and toward better therapies for people with diabetes."
The research is a key step forward toward the routine delivery of glucagon for people with T1D, and toward the development of a multi-hormonal, fully-automated closed loop artificial pancreas system. Such future-generation artificial pancreas systems would automatically deliver both insulin and glucagon, or other drugs.
Glucagon is a naturally occurring hormone that responds to hypoglycemia (extreme low blood sugar) by raising blood sugars, but its regulation is impaired in people with T1D. It works to complement the function of insulin to provide the natural fine-tuning of blood glucose control. Previous studies have shown that the addition of glucagon to insulin treatment reduces the frequency of hypoglycemia in T1D, more closely mimicking the physiology of someone without diabetes.