Biotech Updates

Plant-based, Oral Insulin Regulates Blood Sugar Levels Similar to Natural Insulin

June 21, 2023

Henry Daniell, vice chair and W.D. Miller Professor in the Department of Basic & Translational Sciences in Penn’s School of Dental Medicine led the study about plant-based insulin. Photo Source: Kevin Monko

Insulin is a life-saving medication for the estimated 537 million adults with diabetes worldwide. One of the concerns with using the most common injectable insulin is hypoglycemia. A new and affordable method of insulin delivery developed by Henry Daniell of the School of Dental Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania lowers the risk of hypoglycemia compared to current diabetes treatments.

Studies have shown that injectable insulin pens cause insulin to reach the bloodstream so quickly that hypoglycemia, or blood sugar levels below the healthy range, may result. Automated insulin pumps, however, deliver precise insulin and minimize the risk of hypoglycemia, but are expensive and available only to a small portion of diabetes patients around the world. Now, a plant-based, oral delivery of proinsulin could address these drawbacks.

Clinical insulin has been used for several decades, but is missing one of the three peptides that occur in natural insulin. Henry Daniell and his lab created a plant-based insulin with all three peptides that can be ingested orally. To produce plant-based insulin, scientists blasted human insulin genes to integrate them into the lettuce genome. The resulting seeds permanently retained insulin genes, and subsequently, grown lettuce was freeze-dried, ground, and prepared for oral delivery following the regulatory guidelines set by the Food and Drug Administration.

Using diabetic mice, the research team found that their plant-based insulin-regulated blood sugar within 15 minutes of ingestion very similarly to naturally secreted insulin. On the other hand, mice treated with traditional insulin injections experienced rapidly decreased blood glucose levels leading to transient hypoglycemia.

For more details, read the news article in Penn Today.

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