Smartphone-controlled optogenetically engineered cells enable semiautomatic glucose homeostasis in diabetic mice

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Science Translational Medicine  26 Apr 2017:
Vol. 9, Issue 387, eaal2298
DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aal2298

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Wireless diabetes control? There’s an app for that

In an elegant feat of synthetic biology, Shao et al. were able to remotely control release of glucose-lowering hormones by engineered cells implanted into diabetic mice. These designer cells were transfected with optogenetic circuits, which enabled them to produce the hormones in response to far-red light. A smartphone could adjust far-red light intensity and duration with the help from a control box. Implanting hydrogel capsules containing both engineered cells and light-emitting diode light sources provided a semiautonomous system that maintained glucose homeostasis over several weeks in the diabetic mice. This study illuminates the potential of cell-based therapies.


With the increasingly dominant role of smartphones in our lives, mobile health care systems integrating advanced point-of-care technologies to manage chronic diseases are gaining attention. Using a multidisciplinary design principle coupling electrical engineering, software development, and synthetic biology, we have engineered a technological infrastructure enabling the smartphone-assisted semiautomatic treatment of diabetes in mice. A custom-designed home server SmartController was programmed to process wireless signals, enabling a smartphone to regulate hormone production by optically engineered cells implanted in diabetic mice via a far-red light (FRL)–responsive optogenetic interface. To develop this wireless controller network, we designed and implanted hydrogel capsules carrying both engineered cells and wirelessly powered FRL LEDs (light-emitting diodes). In vivo production of a short variant of human glucagon-like peptide 1 (shGLP-1) or mouse insulin by the engineered cells in the hydrogel could be remotely controlled by smartphone programs or a custom-engineered Bluetooth-active glucometer in a semiautomatic, glucose-dependent manner. By combining electronic device–generated digital signals with optogenetically engineered cells, this study provides a step toward translating cell-based therapies into the clinic.

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