Needle-free insulin

Putting up with needle pricks to avoid the complications of diabetes may seem a small price to pay. But injections can be daunting for children and those newly diagnosed with diabetes - and can be simply terrifying for those with a phobia of needles.

Injecting using modern day needles is relatively painless, but some still find it unpleasant. And there can be side-effects.

There can be bruising or bleeding from the injection sites. And patients are advised to rotate where they inject because repeated jabs can cause noticeable lumps and dips in underlying fatty tissue, known as lipohypertrophyThe build-up of fat tissue at the site of repeated insulin injections, due to the local effects of insulin. and lipoatrophy.

With medical advances that bring us treatments for the previously incurable, surely there must be a better way.

Needle-free insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. delivery is the Holy Grail of diabetes treatment that scientists have been seeking for at least the last 60 years.

And with more than 220 million people diagnosed with diabetes worldwide,[1] it's a lucrative business.

Some new approaches have reached the market, and others are not far behind. Others remain in the laboratory, but promise to revolutionise diabetes management.

Needle-free Alternatives

Oral insulin

Insulin needs to reach the bloodstream to work. Swallowing insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. in a tablet is not currently an option because the digestive juices would break it down in the stomach, rendering the drug useless.

A solution would be to create a tablet that can withstand stomach acid and pass through the gut lining to safely deliver the insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. to where it is needed. Researchers are working on prototypes and some are being tested in clinical trials.

Other scientists are looking at whether insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. could instead be absorbed through the lining of the mouth and are developing insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. sprays.

Sprays

As well as mouth sprays, investigators are testing sprays designed for the nose. The thin lining of the nostrils and nasal passages is rich in bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. vessels, and this means the drug can be absorbed rapidly into the bloodstream.

Inhaled insulin

The lungs could be another good place for getting insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. into the body. Experts have made dry powder and liquid preparations of insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. that can be inhaled into the lungs via the mouth using a specially designed device, much like an asthma inhaler. Devices that have reached the market so far have delivered only short-acting insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels., which means the user still has to inject if they also need to take long-acting insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels..

Patches and pumps

Like a normal plaster, insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. patches stick to the skin where they deliver prescribed amounts of insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. over many hours or days. Various types of small, discreet insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. patches are under development by different pharmaceutical companies.

Insulin pumps, meanwhile, are small computerised devices about the size of a mobile phone that continuously deliver insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. under the skin through a catheterA tube used either to drain fluid from the body or to introduce fluid into the body. and a small needle that is left in place for days at a time.

As with patches, this avoids repeated injections (although the patient will still need to check their bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. glucoseA simple sugar that is an important source of energy in the body. levels regularly) and more closely mimics the way insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. is released by the pancreas.

Scientists have also created a new generation of insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. pumps called patch pumps. They stick directly to the skin with no catheterA tube used either to drain fluid from the body or to introduce fluid into the body. tubing showing and insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. is infused directly under the skin. One patch pump has recently gained approval for use from the US drug regulator the Food and Drug Administration, but is still undergoing trials.

Jets

Another way to get insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. through the skin and into the bloodstream is to use a pressurised jet. Insulin jet injectors have been available on the market for decades now. By forcing the insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. through a specially designed nozzle, they produce a very fine and highly pressurised stream of insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. that is able to penetrate the skin without a needle. But despite no needle, this method is not entirely pain-free.

Artificial pancreas

The idea of an artificial pancreas is to automate diabetes care and free people from the repeated need for finger prick bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. tests and insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. injections. The clever kit monitors levels of sugar in the bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid., calculates the correct dose of insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. and pump insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. into the body. And it uses technology already available on the market.

People can already wear continuous glucoseA simple sugar that is an important source of energy in the body. monitors to measure bloodA fluid that transports oxygen and other substances through the body, made up of blood cells suspended in a liquid. glucoseA simple sugar that is an important source of energy in the body. and insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. pumps to deliver insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels.. However, the devices do not communicate with one another and so patients must manually read sugar levels and operate the pump.

The artificial pancreas overcomes this by coupling the continuous glucoseA simple sugar that is an important source of energy in the body. sensor, which sits under the skin, with the insulinA hormone produced by the beta cells of the pancreas that acts to lower blood glucose levels. pump.

Trials have proved promising and researchers working on an artificial pancreas believe they are just a few years away from bringing a wireless device to the market.[2]

References: 
  1. World Health Organization. Link
  2. Dr. Roman Hovorka of Britain's University of Cambridge, who is testing some experimental devices with components by Abbott Laboratories