A team of Australian chemistry students have strengthened the chemical bonds of insulin to make it stable even at warm temperatures -- a breakthrough that could simplify diabetes management. The finding could shed light on how insulin works, and eventually lead to insulin pills, rather than injections or pumps.
Insulin needs to be kept cold because it is made of weak chemical bonds that degrade at temperatures above 40 degrees Fahrenheit, making it inactive. But using a series of chemical reactions, the research team, comprised of students from Monash University in Australia, replaced the unstable bonds with stronger, carbon-based ones.
The stronger bonds stabilize the insulin's two protein chains without interfering with its natural activity, according to a story about the findings at SciGuru.
The so-called "dicarba" insulins were stable at room temperature for several years, SciGuru says.
Even more promising is that the findings provide insight into how insulin works.
People with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes do not produce enough insulin, whether it's the result of an auto-immune disorder that stops producing it entirely (Type 1) or a condition brought on by other factors like obesity, in which the body can no longer use it properly (Type 2). Insulin is the mechanism that delivers glucose from the blood to the cells, so diabetics must take a synthetic form of the hormone.
When insulin unlocks cells to allow sugar to be taken up from the blood, the hormone's shape changes -- but no one is sure what the shape looks like. If researchers knew that shape, they could design smaller, less-complex versions of insulin that don't use proteins.
Then it could be administered in pill form rather than directly into the bloodstream. Understanding the molecule's chemical bonds is a step toward unlocking that shape, the researchers say.
This is very awesome! It will be interesting to see if they can bring this or a similar product to the market at an affordable cost; I know especially for people who live in remote places away from dependable health care facilities this would be an enormous benefit as it doesn't require sterile needles or refrigeration.
Blah blah blah. "A cure is right around the corner." I've been hearing this BS for 30 years. When are any of these vaccines, beta cell transplants, magic pills, potions, ever going to pan out? Sorry to be so negative but...
I love hearing about this. As the brother of someone who has type 1, news regarding insulin is always a good thing. First, it was needles, now he has a pump, and within the next month or so, he's upgrading to one that tests his bs and administers the proper amount accordingly. Of course, he'll still be able to adjust it manually in case he is about to do something out of the ordinary.
Pill form, I think would be more helpful to type 2, given the needs of type 1, but I think it would still be worth while to research. And aside from that, news of more stable insulin is always great. I can't tell you how many times the insulin has expired, so if this new stuff is stable at room temperature for a few years, then it may as well be immortal in a fridge.
@Greg: well, first off this isn't a cure. Its a treatment. The only way to cure T1 that I can think of is by reprogramming the immune system and then implanting the cells that produce insulin via stem cells. Honestly, in a decade or so, after organ transplants from stem cells designed to replicate your body, this could be possible. Immune reprogramming is new though, but once you can do it reliably, any autoimmune disorder becomes effectively harmless. So, in my opinion, given the rate of development, I would say that an actual cure for T1 diabetes is about two decades away.
The problem is that needles and liquid insulin and the bottles they come in will not be needed by the masses and therefore putting the makers of these things out of business or greatly reduced in the production of these items and therefore will lose money. Remember......it's all about money. Anything positive that seems to benefit the people who really need these meds seem to be stifled because of money loss. Can you imagine what would happen if they discovered a cure for cancer? It would put millions of people out of business.
It is about money, but it is also a competitive marketplace. The company that comes out with a safe pill or inhalable insulin is going to make billions. Ditto for a non-puncture glucose monitor. Do you really think Glaxo (or whoever) is going to hold back an insulin pill because it might hurt the revenue of insulin maker sanofi-aventis? These aren't govt bureaucracies you're talking about. These are massive pharmacos whose CEOs would gladly sell their mothers to Somalian pirates if they could bring inhalable insulin to market.
There is a huge problem with this potential product and that is that it is stable. There are various forms of insulin on the market (all which must be injected) that very in stability. The most stable are very long lasting and so are used to provide low levels of background insulin throughout the day (~24hrs). The less stable are absorbed fasted when injected and then are degraded by the body in about 3-6 hour. These that degrade in 3-6 hours work well for meal time insulin needs. If a person was to give themselves a large amount of long lasting insulin to cover a meal they would be in serious trouble since they would have to keep eating as long as the insulin was active to prevent severe post meal hypoglycemia (low blood sugar which is life threatening). To put this into perspective the insulin which a healthy individual produces only last about 7 mins, which is great because it allows the body to fine tune the amount of insulin present during meals and throughout the day.
Therefore this potential product may be beneficial for providing background insulin to Type 2 patients, but even for them it may produce unintended side effects (receptor down regulation or tolerance/ decrease sensitivity, which is already a huge problem in Type 2 individuals).
I am going to look for the original scientific literature mentioned in this article, but I do not believe this is anything for anyone to hold their breath for.
-A Diabetic Researcher