Insulin is produced in the pancreas. It helps the body convert blood sugars into energy. Insulin injections are part of the daily lives of people suffering from diabetes.
When the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin, the diagnosis is usually type 2 diabetes (type 1 diabetics do not produce insulin at all). Doctors may also refer to something called “metabolic syndrome”, which is a whole complex of problems, type 2 diabetes being only one symptom.
Diabetes researchers now suspect that part of the type 2 diabetes problem may be energy storage, but for now insulin remains the strategy of choice when diabetics are no longer able to control their high blood sugar levels with diet, exercise, and oral medications.
Available in pre-filled, injectable “pens” (syringes), or in vials from which the diabetic withdraws the appropriate dose using a separate syringe, insulin is now artificially synthesized using yeasts and bacteria implanted with a human insulin gene.
This process, discovered in the 1980’s, was the result of mapping the human genome. It allows drug makers to “mass-farm” the insulin so critical to many diabetics, especially type 1 diabetic victims. Previously, diabetic insulin was taken from the pancreases of pigs or cows. This form of insulin is still available in Canada.
In the future, diabetics may have more choices, like inhaled insulin, insulin via some type of skin “port”, or surgically implanted pumps. Farther into the future, a bionic pancreas will both monitor blood glucose and deliver insulin as needed.
For now, the best option for diabetics remains prefilled insulin pens. These handy devices, delivering from one to 100 units per dose, come with very fine-tipped, easily replaceable needles that most diabetics – even those with an aversion to needles – agree are minimally painful. The finger-stick is still far worse, even with the automatic blood sampler.
Going gain the lead over on the prefilled pen, one manufacturer now offers an automatic injector. Instead of using thumb-pressure to force the insulin out the needle, the diabetic lets the pen do the work – almost painlessly, diabetic users (especially children) agree.