Traditional Insulin Won’t Be Your God Anymore

Have hope, for “automated insulin” is on the way

Photo by Matt Chesin on Unsplash

Insulin is a hormone that lowers blood sugar in patients who are suffering from type 1 Diabetes Mellitus (DM). For those who are not familiar with the term, type 1 DM is a disease where your pancreas does not produce enough insulin to deal with your changing blood sugar (or glucose levels), and so, you gradually become sick.

All people experience variations in their blood sugar levels. These variations come after eating, after a fever, or after any kind of stress. If the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin to enter the blood sugar inside the body cells, it will increase outside the cells and cause undesirable results.

In the short-term, if the pancreas can’t control the variations in blood sugar, one can lose weight (because their sugar is not used inside his cells), urinate more in frequency and in amount, and become more hungry than usual. In the long-term (and by that I mean years), these uncontrolled blood sugar levels can damage the blood vessels, kidneys, nerves, and may also lead to blindness.

Most of the parents of type 1 DM children are stressed because normally, children and young adults with DM are often uncooperative with respect to diet and insulin. Most of the questions that I have been receiving as a physician were:

  • Is there a way that I can monitor my son’s blood sugar without having to prick is finger many times a day?
  • Is there an insulin that could be given by mouth?
  • Is there a way that I can give my son his insulin without worrying that he may forget to eat because of some sports events that he is so passionate about?
  • Is there a way that I can allow my daughter to travel abroad without worrying too much about she will handle her tests and injections?

Well, I think all these fears are about to become history.

In a new study that was published this month in “Chemistry — A European Journal”, a group of researchers from the University of Copenhagen and biotech company “Gubra” have engineered a new insulin molecule that, in the future, will self-adjust its release so that patients with DM can just receive the amount of insulin needed to curb the daily spikes and downturns of their blood glucose.

The idea behind this unprecedented discovery was not the desire for academic fame or a relentless pursuit for the Nobel prize, but merely due to a reaction of one of the dear friends and colleagues of Knud J. Jensen, the lead scientist of the research group, who witnessed a very touching event.

In his own words, Jensen explained his main motivation:

“My author friend Jan Sonnergaard told me about a married couple who had been dancing one night. The man had type 1 diabetes and was feeling unwell. The wife thought to stabilize his blood sugar by giving him insulin. Unfortunately, the insulin eventuated in her husband’s death. I wanted to make certain that this kind of tragedy would never be repeated.”

Jensen concluded:

“The difficult thing with diabetes is that insulin always works the same way. It lowers blood sugar, even though that might not be what a patient requires. This is what we seek to address with our new molecule.”

In short, the researchers behind this promising study created an insulin molecule with an integral alarm system that detects the current amount of blood sugar in the body and reacts accordingly.

When injected in rats, this insulin molecule just keeps firing insulin at a constant rate, until it senses a sudden rise or drop in blood sugar, after which it starts to adjust its firing rate according to the event at hand, releasing more insulin with surges and less insulin with drops in blood sugar.

But nevertheless, this study is only the beginning and it will be a while before the this treatment is used in humans or at large.

Professor Jensen explains:

“We’ve tested the insulin molecule on rats and it has proven itself effective. The next step is to develop the molecule so that it works more rapidly and accurately. And finally, to test it in humans — a process that can take many years. But it is certainly worth pinning one’s hopes on.”

This will bring huge hope to the hearts of parents and patients surviving type 1 DM, not only because of its tremendous effect on the lifestyle of such patients and caregivers, but also because it will lift a huge mental and financial load off the chests of these survivors.

Be patient. Hope is near.

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