In an exciting advance in the quest for a new diabetes treatment, our researchers have shown that a nerve stimulation device under development at the Bionics Institute can lower blood sugar levels in just one hour. 

In addition, the study published today in the journal Physiological Reports demonstrates that the device continues to be effective over time, causes no side effects and is safe. 

Dr Joel Villalobos, who leads the research, says this paper marks a critical step in establishing that the device could be a promising new treatment for type 2 diabetes. 

He said: “We’ve previously developed a unique electrical device that stimulates the vagus nerve below the diaphragm to initiate the body’s natural anti-inflammatory response to provide a safe and effective treatment for both rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. 

“We’re now in the early stages of adapting this device to stimulate the body’s natural blood sugar lowering mechanisms, by changing the ‘dose’ of electricity and making sure the stimulation only goes in one direction. We’re delighted to see these results.” 

Diabetes affects over 420 million people worldwide (WHO 2021), with the total cost of treatment estimated to be $327 billion in 2017 (ADA 2018). While drug therapies are available, nearly half of all patients in the US continue to have unhealthy blood sugar levels, which can lead to serious complications. 

Researcher Dr Sophie Payne says the team is working towards an implant that automatically lowers blood sugar levels, to enhance or replace drug treatments in the future. 

She said: “We’re designing the device to be implanted into people with uncontrolled type 2 diabetes using keyhole surgery. It will then be programmed to switch on electrical stimulation after eating to lower blood sugar levels. 

“By keeping blood sugar levels in a healthy range, we hope the device will help prevent damage to the eyes, brain and heart caused by high blood sugar levels, and improve the lives of people with type 2 diabetes.” 

Chief Technology Officer Professor Fallon, who oversees all research at the Bionics Institute, said this work would not be possible without the dedicated support of the Bionics Institute’s collaborators who are leaders in the research and treatment of diabetes. 

“We are incredibly lucky to work with University of Melbourne researchers, Professor Prins from Royal Melbourne Hospital; Professor Richard MacIsaac and Associate Professor Glenn Ward from St Vincent’s Hospital; and Associate Professor Andrikopoulos from Austin Health.” 

For more information about our diabetes research, go to: 

The Bionics Institute research team working on the diabetes vagus nerve device L-R: Dr Joel Villalobos, Dr Sophie Payne, Dr Tomoko Hyakumura, Professor James Fallon