Insulin Treatment, a Brief History

A Brief History of Insulin and Diabetes Treatment

To understand diabetes and diabetes treatment, it is important to understand how insulin works. Many of you may have diabetes, and some of this information might be redundant. But for those of you who have family members and loved ones with diabetes, some of this information can be pertinent to helping those relatives adjust to a new lifestyle.           

What is Diabetes?

Many diabetes patients require insulin therapy. Diabetes, formerly known as diabetes mellitus, refers to metabolic disorders that cause high blood sugar levels due to problems with insulin production or insulin resistance. When people have disorders that affect their metabolism, their bodies do not properly process digested food. When carbohydrates, such as complex starches and sugars, are digested, they are converted into glucose, which is a simple sugar. Insulin allows the body to use glucose, but people with diabetes do not produce adequate insulin.

How Insulin Works

Insulin is normally produced in the body naturally, within the pancreas in special pancreatic cells called the Islets of Langerhans or pancreatic islets. Insulin is a hormone that the pancreatic islets normally secrete into the blood when blood sugar (or glucose) levels rise. Glucose levels increase after a person eats and digests food. Insulin allows muscle and other cells in the body to absorb the glucose in the blood. Cells then convert the absorbed glucose into the energy that powers most body functions.

A Brief History of Insulin Therapy

Before insulin was discovered, diabetes treatments were limited to dietary adjustments and fasting, and the disease prognosis was poor, especially for diabetic children who had short life expectancies. Insulin was not discovered until 1922, and its discovery was a major scientific breakthrough. Fredrick Banting, John Macleod, and Charles Best were awarded the Nobel Prize in 1923 for their work in discovering insulin, which they first called isletin, in the pancreatic islets and for their initial success injecting insulin extractions from animals into human diabetes patients to reduce blood glucose levels.

After the discovery of how insulin works, subsequent researchers worked to purify animal extracts of insulin. They also added elements to insulin injections that increased the duration of their effects and decreased the frequency of insulin injections required for patients. For some time, pig pancreases were used for the mass production of animal insulin for pharmaceutical companies like Eli Lilly & Co.

In 1978, researchers at Genentech and Beckman Research Institute developed methods for synthesizing insulin using recombinant DNA techniques on bacteria. Genentech formed a partnership with Eli Lilly & Co. to manufacture synthetic insulin they called Humulin, which was first marketed in 1982.

Today, synthetic insulin is predominantly used in diabetes treatment. Bioengineered variations or analogs of human insulin continue to be created to perfect how insulin works and to improve blood sugar management for millions of diabetes patients. This is presently the most effective way to manage blood spikes and irregular glocuse levels in the blood. Whether you suffer from diabetes or a loved one, it’s important to know how far we’ve come in monitoring, managing, and, hopefully, curing the disorder.  

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