The BRIght Futures Prize supports BWH investigators as they work to answer provocative questions or solve vexing problems in medicine. Now in its sixth year, the competition allows voters from the Brigham and beyond to determine the winner of the competition’s $100,000 prize.

In this edition of BWH Bulletin, meet this year’s three finalists and learn more about how they hope to translate scientific discoveries into clinical therapies for patients here and around the world. The BRIght Futures Prize will be presented at Discover Brigham on Thursday, Nov. 9.

Learn more about Dr. Lee’s project below and cast your vote at brightfuturesprize.org.

Yuhan Lee, PhD, Materials Scientist, Division of Engineering in Medicine

What problem are you trying to solve?

YL: The Type 2 diabetes epidemic is growing at an alarming rate: Every six seconds, someone dies from diabetes and its complications. There are many drugs available for treatment of diabetes, but diabetes management remains challenging. Poorly controlled diabetes leads to many health problems, including blindness, limb amputation and renal failure. Recently, surgeons have found that surgically rerouting the gastrointestinal tract can completely reverse diabetes. However, many patients with diabetes do not qualify for the surgeries or choose not to have them due to risks. There is an urgent need to deliver the benefits of bariatric surgery for patients with Type 2 diabetes but in a safer, noninvasive way.

What is your solution?

YL: Our idea is to package all the benefits of the surgery into a small pill. Before a meal, a patient could swallow a pill containing a substance that would coat the stomach and intestine, forming a temporary physical barrier. This blocks nutrient contact in the bowel during the meal and lowers blood glucose. The effect is similar to the results from surgery, but after a few hours the coating clears out from the gut. This solution is appealing because it’s safe and reversible, and stays only in the applied region rather than circulating throughout the body.

For more than six years, we have been developing a compound we call “LuCI,” short for Luminal Coating of Intestine. LuCI is a dried powder that can be ingested in the form of a pill or in a capsule. After patients take LuCI, it forms a viscus, sticky liquid that coats in the gut. In animal studies, this coating significantly reduced blood sugar levels for several hours after a meal with just one dose. Also, LuCI is based on an FDA-approved compound, which makes it much more likely that it will be safe to take.

How will your research project benefit people?

YL: Diabetes is recognized as a global epidemic affecting 450 million people worldwide, with this number estimated to increase to 640 million by 2040. While many medications are available, fewer than half of patients who take them achieve appropriate blood sugar control. More challenging, three out of four patients who have diabetes live in low- and middle-income countries where access to some of the newer, more expensive mediations is limited. LuCI provides an alternative, more affordable therapeutic option that can be taken orally, and without systemic absorption, while providing the benefits of a major surgery.

Collaborators and Affiliations

Jeffrey Karp, PhD, biomedical engineer and principal investigator, Division of Engineering in Medicine

Ali Tavakkoli, MD, gastrointestinal surgeon and principal investigator, Department of Surgery