A new drug for Type 2 diabetes can be controlled with violet-blue light to more effectively release insulin from the pancreas. A team from Imperial College London and Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich has developed the new medication, JB253, which, when exposed to violet-blue light, changes shape to release a proper amount of insulin from pancreatic cells. Existing diabetes medications can sometimes release too much, causing blood sugar levels to drop. In their study, the researchers found that JB253 remains inactive until a violet-blue LED shines on it. Beta cells within JB253-treated islets before and following exposure to LED illumination. Courtesy of Nature Communications. In theory, a patient could switch the medication on by using the violet-blue light on their skin. The effect is reversible, so the drug can switch off again when the light goes off. “In principle, this type of therapy may allow better control over blood sugar levels because it can be switched on for a short time when required after a meal. It should also reduce complications by targeting drug activity to where it’s needed in the pancreas,” said Dr. David Hodson, a professor of cell biology and physiology at ICL. The researchers created JB253 by adapting the existing sulfonylurea family of drugs, which, via ATP-sensitive potassium channels in the pancreas, can “boost insulin release from the pancreatic beta cell mass to restore glucose homeostasis” in diabetes patients, the researchers wrote in the study. “So far, we’ve created a molecule that has the desired effect on human pancreatic cells in the lab,” Hodson said, noting that research involving light-activated medications remains in the early stages. “There’s a long way to go before a therapy is available to patients, but this remains our ultimate goal.” Photoswitchable drugs, such as the new JB253, and photopharmacology could potentially treat a myriad of diseases, according to LMU Munich Professor Dirk Trauner, as they could allow remote, light control over specific body processes. The work was funded by Diabetes UK, the European Foundation for the Study of Diabetes, the European Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the Medical Research Council. The research was published in Nature Communications. For more information, visit www.imperial.ac.uk.