Transdermal Metformin: The New Wave of Diabetes Technology


A potential addition to technology-based diabetes care is transdermal metformin.

The diabetes landscape is constantly evolving with new technologies.

For instance, an implantable form of the GLP-1 receptor agonist exenatide is expected to receive FDA approval later this year. Another potential addition to technology-based diabetes care is transdermal metformin.

Researchers at the Institute for Basic Science in Seoul, South Korea, have developed a transcutaneous/transdermal patch system that is said to monitor blood glucose levels and deliver metformin as needed in response to increased levels of blood glucose. The major driver for this technology is the lack of adherence and compliance associated with monitoring blood glucose levels.

How Does Transdermal Metformin Work?

The science behind the patch is pretty intriguing.

After applying it on a patient with diabetes, the patch captures sweat particles from the skin and built-in sensors detect the pH of those particles, as well as any changes in temperature. If those changes indicate an increased blood glucose level, then heaters inside the patch start dissolving a layer of coating, which subsequently exposes microneedles.

The microneedles will then release metformin within the patient’s body to regulate his or her increased blood glucose level. Microneedles caused a slight tingling sensation in some patients, but others did not feel anything at all. Simultaneously, the patch will wirelessly transmit blood glucose readings to the patient’s mobile device to monitor and record the readings.

The technology behind this patch is literally gold.

It relies on durable and flexible graphene technology that is comprised of carbon atoms and often used in wearable devices. Historically, scientists have used this technology to create patches, but certain properties of graphene make it difficult to detect blood glucose fluctuations. As a result, the research team at the Institute for Basic Science added gold particles and a gold mesh around the graphene to limit any difficulties.

Has Transdermal Metformin Been Validated?

Thus far, the patch has been tested on mice with diabetes and 2 adult men with diabetes. Prior to any additional studies, the drug delivery portion will have to be adjusted so that the microneedles are able to deliver appropriate doses of metformin.

Several questions remained unanswered, but additional research is being conducted. This product has the potential to become the first of its kind.

In any case, it’s good to know that there is heightened awareness among the biotech community of the microvascular and macrovascular complications associated with diabetes.


Lee H, Choi KT, Lee YB, et al. A graphene-based electrochemical device with thermoresponsive microneedles for diabetes monitoring and therapy. Nature Nanotech. 2016 Mar 21. doi: 10.1038/nnano.2016.38. [Epub ahead of print]

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