Dr. Simon Friedman

Expert Exchange

UMKC Team Focused on Improving Care for Millions of Diabetes Patients

Dr. Simon Friedman is developing a way of using light to control the delivery of insulin and hence control blood sugar levels. This technology is a key component of an artificial pancreas which can lead to health benefits for patients and improved quality of life.

For Dr. Friedman, the goal is improving diabetes treatment. The discovery of insulin was a breakthrough that significantly impacted diabetic individuals who suffered an array of maladies that shortened their lifespans Simply, their bodies couldn’t produce insulin, which is the body’s way to signal that carbohydrates have been ingested and need to be absorbed from the blood.

”There has been a real interest in developing an artificial pancreas which is essentially two pieces, one is something that measures blood sugar continuously throughout the day and the second piece is a way of administering insulin that can be continuously varied,” Dr. Friedman said.

Dr. Friedman is creating a device that continuously releases varying amounts of insulin to regulate blood sugar. This is essentially the second piece of the artificial pancreas that would allow diabetics to live their lives without insulin pumps, blood samples, and the risk associated with administering their own treatment. Dr. Friedman’s device uses a material that is injected under the skin, but unlike insulin, it is not absorbed. The injection site is covered by a device that uses LED light to stimulate the insulin release. This material is designed to release insulin proportional to light of a specific wavelength. When the device shines twice the light, it delivers twice the insulin. Combined with blood sugar information, this can provide control of the timing and dose of the treatment released, both crucial in diabetes. This new technology has the potential to revolutionize the treatment for diabetics.

Advances in insulin delivery have been limited. Currently the main two options are injections with a syringe multiple times per day or use of an insulin pump. Insulin pumps, while eliminating syringes introduce a whole host of problems, associated with the tube or cannula that connects the insulin reservoir outside the patient to the inside of the patient. This can get snagged, crimped, pulled out, but more importantly it gets blocked rapidly because of the body’s natural reaction to this foreign body. All of these problems compromise the efficacy of insulin delivery.

A key goal of Dr. Friedman’s is to keep this new technology as close in methodology to current treatment regimens used by diabetic patients. He stated that many new technologies get stuck at “interesting” but fail to translate to practical patient use. Dr. Friedman’s technology will allow the automation of insulin release, much like a pancreas. Additionally, because this technology needs less maintenance than is currently standard, there is an increased potential for it to be widely adopted.

Friedman’s team at UMKC is focused on achieving something that could improve the quality of life for millions of diabetics in the world. “My dream is to create something that benefits human health,” Friedman said. “Something that changes the lives of millions of people. We have the potential to do that.”