Insulin for diabetes

Human insulin by gene splicing

Image courtesy of University of Technology, Sydney

Diabetes is a common and sometimes fatal disease that occurs when the supply of insulin is insufficient for the body to break down sugar properly.

The majority of insulin used by people to manage diabetes is produced using biotechnology. Bacterial cells are genetically modified to produce large quantities of human insulin, which is then purified for therapeutic use. Millions of people worldwide now use Humuline, which is a major brand name for ‘human’ insulin produced using GM bacteria.

For many years, individuals with diabetes were treated with insulin derived from the pancreases of abattoir animals (usually pigs and cows). Although animal insulin is similar to the human form, there are some differences. This means that some individuals cannot tolerate it. There are also issues regarding the sustainable use of animals for this purpose.

Try splicing a gene yourself - interactive

Some human proteins that have been generated in similar ways to insulin include human growth hormone, blood-clotting factors needed to treat haemophilia, and erythropoietin, which is used to treat anaemia.