Novel Technology Could Reduce Weight Control Drug Injections for Patients With Diabetes


A new hydrogel drug delivery system could change the way diabetes is managed.

Researchers with Stanford University School of Engineering created a technology that can reduce the need for weekly diabetes or weight control injections for patients with diabetes, according to authors of an article published in Cell Reports Medicine. This technology, a novel hydrogel drug delivery system that mirrors glucagon-like peptide 1 (GLP-1)—a hormone that is targeted for weight management—may improve patient adherence to weight reducing agents and improve outcomes.

Image credit: New Africa |

Image credit: New Africa |

“Needing only 3 shots a year would make it much easier for people with diabetes or obesity to stick with their drug regimens,” said primary investigator Eric Appel, an associate professor of materials science and engineering at Stanford, in the press release.

Type 2 diabetes affects more than 500 million people around the globe, and in the United Statesalmost a third of the population may have type 2 diabetes. GLP-1 drugs are a class of weight management drugs that increase satiety, reduce hunger, and control other reward-related dietary effects. Although proven effective and safe, GLP-1s and other diabetes-related treatments cost the country over $400 billion annually. Further, treatment adherence is a significant challenge.

Stanford investigators evaluated this hydrogel delivery system in rats, where it facilitated blood glucose and weight management better than daily injections with a leading commercial drug, according to Appel. It works by slowing down the release of GLP-1 drugs over the course of many months. This system may ultimately replace weekly or daily injections with ones that are administered once every 4 months, according to investigators.

For administration, the GLP-1 is first formulated into the polymer-nanoparticle (PNP) hydrogel. A health care professional then injects a depot of gel underneath the skin of the arm or other convenient location. As the gel slowly melts away, it releases GLP-1 into the body.

The hydrogel is capable of melting into the skin because it is engineered with weakly-bound polymers and nanoparticles. This is unique from contact lenses or other hydrogels that stronglybind to resist degradation.

“Our hydrogel melts away over many months like a sugar cube dissolving in water, molecule by molecule,” Appel said in the press release. “I often refer to the mesh being held together by a sort of molecular Velcro that sticks together quite well, but then can be easily pulled apart.”

Moreover, the PNP gel is durable for up to 4 months. “[This] match(es) the cadence that people actually meet with their physician or endocrinologist,” Appel said in the press release. However, the gel may technically be stable for up to 6 months. It is being evaluated for use in children with type 1 diabetes.

Additionally, investigators will evaluate the novel hydrogel next in pigs, as they have a similar skin and endocrine system to humans. If the trials are successful, investigators could have human clinical trials by 2024 at the earliest.

“At the very least, we have laid a pathway for the prolonged release of therapeutic GLP-1–based anti-diabetic and anti-obesity treatments that could have beneficial impact on type 2 diabetes management and, perhaps, other conditions as well,” Appel said.


New drug delivery system could reduce daily diabetes shots to just three a year. Stanford University School of Engineering. News Release. November 22, 2023. Accessed on November 27, 2023.

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