Inhalable insulin’s sweet success

By HSC Staff Writer • Published: April 14th, 2006
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

A quick puff on an inhaler may be just what the doctor ordered for millions of adults who need insulin shots.

For the first time since its discovery in the 1920s, insulin is available in a new form… as a dry powder that, when inhaled, travels through the lungs to the bloodstream. There, like injected insulin, it acts to control blood sugar.

Recently FDA-approved for adults, EXUBERA (eggs-ZOO-buh-ruh) manages blood sugar just as effectively as injections. But researchers warn it won’t completely replace needles. People with diabetes should still test blood sugar levels with a finger prick and take long-acting insulin by injection. Inhaled insulin only provides coverage for meals and large snacks. Plus, inhalable insulin might not work for all diabetics.

Nearly twenty-one million people in the United States have diabetes. About seventy-five percent have type two diabetes… often a result of obesity… where the body makes too little insulin and has trouble using all it makes. The remaining twenty-five percent have type one diabetes… the more severe form of the disease. They don’t produce insulin at all and require insulin shots to survive.

But both types may get results from the fast-acting insulin inhaler before or after meals. That may be all people with type two diabetes need. People with type one will still likely need longer-lasting insulin shots in the morning or at bedtime.

At any rate, inhalable insulin is a breakthrough… one that may help all people with diabetes manage blood sugar levels better.