Could coffee replace insulin injections?

Publishing research in Nature Communications, a group of Swiss scientists have developed an implant that releases diabetes medication when it detects caffeine in the blood.

coffee beans

With this new invention the future of diabetes treatment, which currently involves daily injections with an insulin pen, could radically change. Sufferers may cap off a meal with a shot of espresso, instead of a self-administered shot of insulin. Globally, more than 400 million people are affected by type-2 diabetes and controlling blood sugar levels is a critical part of managing the condition.

The implant contains hundreds of thousands of modified human cells, which releases a diabetes drug and causes insulin to be produced when caffeine is sensed in the bloodstream. Insulin is the body’s controller of blood sugar levels; it is produced by beta cells in the pancreas. Type-2 diabetes occurs because the insulin produced by the pancreas does not work properly or adequate amounts are not made.

“You could completely integrate this into your lifestyle,” said Martin Fussenegger, research lead at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich. “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.”

Unfortunately, it could be up to a decade before this futuristic medicine is available for human use, requiring extensive testing to ensure the system is safe and effective.

Carbon dioxide shortages leading to beer droughts


In the media and in science education we often hear about an abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. However, to make fizzy beverages and for some food processes, food grade carbon dioxide (CO2) is required. And this summer following a shortage of CO2, the UK population could see disruption to food and fizzy drink supplies, including beer.

Food and drink producers around the UK have been warned of possible shortages following a series of CO2 producers across northern European going offline. Three of the UK’s larger CO2 plants have recently been closed for maintenance, leaving only one major factory operational, which is why the shortage has so far only affected the UK.

CO2 is dissolved into drinks to make them fizzy, but most people do not realise the gas is also required in the food industry. CO2 is used in the meat industry during the slaughtering process for pigs and poultry and is also used to keep food fresh in storage and transit.

The Guardian reported that The British Poultry Council said the current shortage could have a “potentially huge effect” on British food production. The British Meat Processors Association (BMPA) has also said it is “very concerned” about the shortage, as CO2 is used in packing fresh meat and salads, while the British Soft Drinks Association said it is “impacting a wide range of businesses across the food and drink sector”.

During the summer season and especially with the World Cup taking place at the moment, demand for fizzy beverages and beer has peaked and the closures for summer maintenance has fallen at the worst possible time.

Currently it remains unknown how long the shortage will last but hopefully, the manufacturing plants will be back online soon.

Vaccine combination could reduce incidence of malaria infection

malariaResearchers at Imperial College London have revealed that using two experimental antimalarial vaccines, which each have a different mechanism of action, can greatly reduce the number of malaria infections in animal studies.

A team looked at the combined effect of two types of vaccine. Independently the vaccines were 40% and 68% successful. However, when combined a reduction of 91% in malaria cases was seen.

The researchers believe that “combining partially effective vaccines of differing anti-parasitic classes is a pragmatic, powerful way to accelerate malaria elimination efforts.”

Malaria is a life-threatening tropical disease spread by mosquitoes. A single bite is all it takes to become infected with the disease, which if untreated, can be fatal. It is caused by the parasite Plasmodium, which lives in mosquitoes and is transferred to a human, when an infected mosquito bites, passing the parasite into the bloodstream. In 2016, malaria caused an estimated 216 million illnesses and 445,000 confirmed deaths globally.

The research study was published in the peer-reviewed open access scientific journal for the biomedical and life sciences, eLife.

The researchers tested a transmission-blocking vaccine (TBV), which prevent mosquitoes from transferring parasites and a pre-erythrocytic vaccine (PEV) that prevents the malaria parasite from infecting the liver of the infected human. The team hypothesised that the TBV mechanism could reduce parasite density in the mosquito salivary gland and that this would then enhance the efficacy of the PEV.

Dr Andrew Blagborough, lead researcher from the Department of Life Sciences at Imperial, said: “This is the first direct evidence that combining vaccines of different types significantly improves their efficacy in terms of reducing malarial burden.”

“Reaching a potential 91% reduction in cases would have a huge impact on public health because the vaccines could be effective in areas where malaria is more prevalent.”

Dr Morven Roberts, Programme Manager for parasites and neglected tropical diseases at the MRC, said: “While these findings are in the preliminary stages, they’re valuable as they shed light on optimising strategies for preventing malaria. Learning that combining vaccines can dramatically boost efficacy in mice provides another potential tactic for controlling this disease. This is timely research as global health officials work towards WHO targets to eliminate malaria by 2030.”

The research was funded by the PATH Malaria Vaccine Initiative and the Medical Research Council (MRC), including researchers at Imperial’s MRC Centre for Outbreak Analysis and Modelling.


Journal Reference:

Ellie Sherrard-Smith, et al.,. “Synergy in anti-malarial pre-erythrocytic and transmission-blocking antibodies is achieved by reducing parasite density.” eLife, 7 (2018).

Written by Angharad Baldwin

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