It’s been a Holy Grail of diabetes research for decades: Insulin that doesn’t require needle injections. Now, scientists are reporting a breakthrough in achieving the goal — developing an inhalable insulin for diabetics to keep their blood glucose in check.
Afrezza, a small device resembling an asthma inhaler, is a rapid-acting insulin that is inhaled. The new drug, manufactured by MannKind Corp., works by binding insulin to an inert powder, which is then inhaled and absorbed through the lungs.
The device, which was recently approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, could allow diabetics to avoid painful needle sticks and insulin injections.
Dr. Caroline Messer, a MannKind consultant, tells Newsmax Health that Afrezza is a huge advance in the treatment of Type 1 diabetes. She notes that Type 2 diabetics can often manage their blood sugar with diet, weight management, and other healthy lifestyle habits, but Type 1 diabetes have had no choice but to use injectable insulin — until now.
“There are so many options for Type 2 — so many patients can now manage their diabetes with non-insulin medication,” says Messer, a physician at 5th Avenue Endocrinology in New York City.
“But for Type 1, it’s always been insulin, insulin, insulin, which has always been injectable. So, [Afrezza] is a real game changer for type 1.”
Insulin is a natural hormone that regulates sugar within the bloodstream and stores excess glucose for energy for use by cells and tissues that need it. In Type 1 diabetics, too little insulin is secreted by the pancreas (requiring medication), while Type 2 diabetics develop a resistance to the insulin it their bodies produce so it is used less effectively.
As a result, glucose in the bloodstream rises, increasing the risk for complications like blindness, nerve damage, and kidney damage. This is where insulin therapy comes in.
Whether it’s replacing the insulin that a Type 1 diabetic’s body isn’t producing or keeping glucose levels of a Type 2 diabetic in the desired range, insulin therapy plays a vital role in the management of this disease.
But, unfortunately, injectable insulin isn’t always beneficial for patients.
“A lot of patients over time develop skin rashes from taking insulin,” Messer explains. “[Patients] can develop hardened skin, rashes, and a lot of people have phobias of needles.”
She also notes multiple injections are a hassle and painful, posing particular challenges for children.
“There have been a few issues that have become apparent with four shots a day,” Messer says, noting that the current four-shot regime becomes “rather onerous.”
“[Afrezza] is more rapid acting than the subcutaneous insulin we currently have,” she says. “Basically, it acts even faster than the subcutaneous insulin; it matches up the insulin to the time where your sugars are high.”
As a result, Afrezza is a better option for diabetics, who take it at meal-time, when blood sugar levels tend to spike.
“Having such an ultra-rapid acting insulin will encourage patients to give themselves correct doses of insulin because they won’t be nervous about having extremely low blood sugars hours later,” she notes. “The issue with the injectable insulin is that, while it works very well, it lasts for hours and hours.
“It takes away a lot of the guesswork, a lot of the fear from diabetes.”
The second benefit to the inhalable insulin is that it can be tailored to a particular diabetic’s individual needs.
Messer explains: “If patients make a mistake: let’s say they think they’re going to eat a certain amount and they end up eating more, and the dose of insulin that they gave themselves wasn’t enough, they can always give themselves an extra dose. That can help prevent a fluctuation in the blood sugar. You can’t do that with an injectable medication.”
Afrezza, approved in 2014 by the FDA, is available by prescription.
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