Insulin is probably a word you’ve heard a lot in relation to diabetes, but have you ever asked yourself, where does insulin come from? Have you wondered about what it does, and how we’re able to put it in vials for injection? It’s true that insulin plays an important role in the body, so let’s have a look at what insulin actually does, how it works, and answer the question ‘where does insulin come from?’
Insulin is a peptide hormone. Hormones are chemicals that circulate in the body and tell other cells or organs what to do, or how to react in a given situation. Beta cells in the pancreas produce and secrete insulin in our bodies. After you eat, glucose from your food is absorbed into your bloodstream. This glucose then circulates to various parts of your body. When blood glucose levels start increasing, the pancreas releases insulin.
Insulin helps your body to utilise the glucose that’s in the food you eat so that you have energy to do the things you need to do. To do its job, insulin binds to receptors on the surfaces of the body’s cells. Once insulin has bound itself to a cell’s receptor, various processes take place, allowing the cell to process glucose from your bloodstream.
What Happens to Insulin in Diabetes?
In Type 1 diabetes, the pancreas produces little or no insulin, thus impairing the body’s ability to utilise glucose. This is why insulin injections are necessary.
In Type 2 diabetes, the body still produces insulin. However, it might not make enough insulin, or the receptors are not as responsive to insulin. This means there is a reduced response. In Type 2 diabetes, it’s not always necessary to use insulin injections because there are other medications that can increase insulin sensitivity or increase insulin secretion. If you want to read more about the differences in Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, follow this link.
Similarly, in gestational diabetes, there is a problem with insulin production or response. Diabetes medications are usually replaced with insulin during pregnancy, as it has a better safety profile. Check out this article for more information and tips about managing gestational diabetes.
Where Does Insulin Come From When Used as Medication?
When the pancreas cannot produce enough of its own insulin, it becomes necessary to get insulin from an external source. If you have diabetes, your doctor may decide to prescribe insulin injections for you.
Before the 1980s, the only way to source insulin was to take insulin from pigs (porcine) or cows (bovine insulin). Insulin extracted from these animals was purified before use in humans. However, with the advent of DNA technology in the 1980s, it is more common for patients to receive biosynthetic human insulin. The use of porcine or bovine insulin has become a lot less common (Source: http://www.diabetes.co.uk/insulin/animal-insulin.html).
We produce biosynthetic human insulin by utilising bacteria or yeast cells. Firstly, the human gene responsible for producing insulin is extracted. This is then inserted into the genetic material of bacteria or yeast cells. As these cells replicate and multiply, they produce insulin. In the end, the insulin they produce gets purified and is ready for medical use. Drug companies usually package insulin into cartridges, pens or vials for human use.
Insulin dosing can be tricky. If your doctor has prescribed insulin for you, it’s important that you understand what type of insulin it is (e.g fast-acting or long-acting), and how to inject it correctly. You should always inject insulin subcutaneously. This means that you would use a short needle to inject it just under the skin. Insulin is administered this way so that it doesn’t enter the bloodstream too quickly and produce a drastic drop in blood glucose. Furthermore, your insulin dose may vary, depending on your blood glucose levels. Having an appropriate way of recording blood glucose levels and insulin doses can be really important. You can speak to your doctor or pharmacist for more information about using insulin injections.