Soon, insulin-dependent diabetic patients may be able to lead a more relaxed life, without having to constantly monitor their glucose levels and frequently take insulin shots.
A team of scientists at the National Institute of Immunology here, led by its Director Avadhesha Surolia, has developed a technique by which it may be possible for patients to take a shot of insulin just once every four to five months.
Speaking to The Hindu , Dr. Surolia said that trials with mice and rabbit models had shown that a single dose was enough to maintain a basal level of insulin in their system for more than 120 days.
Interestingly, the team has been able to achieve this without the use of any chemical additives or a device such as a pump or a patch. Their technique primarily involved getting individual molecules of insulin to come together and form multi-molecular or supra-molecular assemblies.
Principles of protein
Dr. Surolia, who is also a professor at the Bangalore-based Indian Institute of Science's Molecular Biophysics Unit, said the team has basically used the principles of protein folding to harness the inherent aggregative property of insulin molecules to generate a form that exhibited a controlled and sustained release of the molecules over prolonged periods.
“The just above basal level of human insulin released in a sustained manner has been found to be effective in not only controlling the upsurge in the level of blood glucose after meals, but also in preventing the dreaded early morning hypoglycaemia, which is caused by low glucose levels.”
The technology has been transferred to a U.S.-based company for further development including clinical trials. The new agent could be available in the market in about six years after all the trials and other formalities are completed, he said.
The tests on mice and rabbits were conducted using bovine and recombinant human insulin. A single dose using bovine insulin was able to give coverage for over 120 days while that with recombinant human insulin sustained over 140 days.
Noting that some of the combinations of insulin analogues that are currently used have been linked to an increased cancer risk, Dr. Surolia said the new agent bypassed this problem. Also, it did not lead to the activation of enzymes that destroy insulin.
A major issue with diabetes management with the current practice of multiple injections in a day was the fear of pricking oneself every now and then. Many a time, this led to the patient not adhering to the treatment in toto , resulting in complications such as diabetic cardiopathy, cataract and nephropathy.