The list of health benefits afforded by coffee keeps getting longer – a team of scientists in Switzerland have published a study suggesting that current insulin injections used to treat type 2 diabetes could be replaced one day by drinking coffee or other caffeinated drinks.
The results of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Type 2 diabetes affects more than 400 million people worldwide. People with the condition develop insulin resistance, thereby causing blood sugar levels to spike after meals. Although the disease can be managed by monitoring blood sugar levels and administering insulin injections as needed, this can be a time-consuming and inconvenient process.
Researchers at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich developed an implant using human kidney cells that they designed to release a diabetes drug called GLP-1 when triggered. The drug stimulates cells in the pancreas, known as beta cells, to produce insulin, which then regulates blood sugar levels, reports The Guardian.
The implant is composed of thousands of gel-like capsules, which protect the designer cells from being attacked by the immune system, while also allowing the exchange of caffeine and medication. “When you inject them under the skin, they stick together like caviar,” Martin Fussenegger, who led the research, explained to The Guardian.
To test their invention, the team inserted the implant under the skin of ten diabetic mice. Researchers gave mice different drinks containing varying amounts of caffeine, including herbal tea, milkshakes, energy drinks, instant coffee, black tea and others. They found that all of the drinks containing at least some caffeine triggered the release of medication in the mice, with higher caffeine levels associated with a stronger dose of medication.
Although the implant will not be ready for use in humans any time soon, researchers hope that it could one day significantly improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes.
“You could have your normal life back. The implant could last for six months to a year before it would need to be replaced,” Fussenegger told The Guardian. He noted that it would likely be ten years or more before the implant could be proven safe and effective by various tests and trials.
Fussenegger cautioned that the treatment may not work for everyone, but could still improve quality of life for many people with diabetes.
“You could completely integrate this into your lifestyle,” Fussenegger told The Guardian. “You have a tea or coffee in the morning, another after lunch, and another at dinner, depending on how much drug you need to get your glucose back down.”
Diabetes affects around 60 million people in the European region, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). Worldwide, WHO estimates that high blood sugar kills around 3.4 million people each year, with diabetes deaths projected to double between 2005 and 2030.