The Future of Diabetes Treatment Is Changing

Insulin injections are a painful but necessary part of life for millions of people with diabetes. A new study from the University of California at Riverside provides hope for a future free of daily injections. Researchers are paving the way for insulin to be administered as a pill in the future.

Key takeaways:
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    Millions of people with diabetes depend on insulin to live.
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    Insulin must be injected, which can be a painful and frustrating process.
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    Current research may lead to the creation of an insulin pill.
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    An insulin pill would reduce the burden on millions of people.

The problem with current diabetes treatment

Diabetes, a disease that results in too much sugar in the blood, currently affects over 420 million people worldwide. Of that group, millions of people rely on insulin injections to control their diabetes. Insulin is a natural hormone that acts as a key to allow carbohydrates, or sugars, to enter the body’s cells to be used for energy. Without insulin, the carbohydrates you eat cannot be used as energy. Instead, the sugar stays in the bloodstream and causes damage over time.

Insulin is a life-saving drug, but it comes with a lot of problems. Most importantly, insulin cannot be taken orally because it is destroyed by stomach acid. Insulin must be injected into the skin with a needle. This is a painful and frustrating process for a lot of patients. Understandably, it is uncomfortable and stressful for some people to inject themselves with a needle multiple times a day.

Insulin also has to be refrigerated and has a relatively short expiration date. Stocking up on a supply of insulin in case of emergencies is difficult and traveling with a medication that is best when refrigerated creates even more challenges. An insulin pill would be a lot less hassle. The great news is that researchers are working on methods that will allow insulin to be taken orally.

The end of injectable insulin?

A group of researchers at the University of California at Riverside have created a chemical “tag” that can be added to medications like insulin, which will potentially allow them to be swallowed in pill form instead of injected. Their study was published a few weeks ago in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, and their work has the potential to change diabetes treatment.

These researchers were working on a separate project when they observed the tag, made up of tiny protein fragments, entering cells. The tag is a small molecule, and it can be chemically attached to medications. This can change how the medication enters and moves through the body.

The scientists teamed up with the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California to feed the tag to mice in the laboratory. They used an imaging test called a PET scan, which showed them exactly where the tag ended up inside the mouse’s body.

They found that the tag survived the stomach acid and accumulated in the mice’s intestines, then passed into the bloodstream and out to organs in the body. The researchers now want to work on attaching this tag to different types of drugs to demonstrate that it can do the same thing. This tag may change the way people take insulin, and other drugs as well.

The future of diabetes treatment

The work of these scientists means that insulin can be taken in pill form in the future. This will eliminate the need for insulin injections and pumps, along with the hassle that comes with it. This tag might be able to take insulin into the digestive tract and keep it safe from breaking down in stomach acid. It can then usher insulin into the bloodstream and then to cells to be used normally.

Instead of painful, daily injections, the future of diabetes may consist of a simple pill to be swallowed. Dr. Min Xue, professor of chemistry at UCR who led the research stated, “This discovery could lift a burden on people who are already burdened with illness.”

The results of this study are one giant step in the direction of ending painful insulin injections for people with diabetes. This could improve the quality of life for millions of people around the world and may lead to improvements in the treatment of other diseases as well. An insulin pill is still many years away, but the future of diabetes research is exciting and promising.


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