Insulin in Plants to Combat Diabetes

Diabetes has become a very serious disorder that affects millions of people all over the world. It is not just some disease as many would have thought. It is a metabolic disorder that is due to the inability of the pancreas to produce insulin which, in turn, tries to regulate the blood sugar levels in the body.

Diabetes can cause a number of complications which may include, cardiovascular disease, chronic renal failure or retinal damage which can lead to blindness. Since diabetes is currently considered as an incurable disorder, the usual treatment includes a strict diet as well as a number of oral diabetic drugs to manage blood sugar levels as well as insulin treatments.

Insulin has been looked at as an important part of helping a number of diabetics cope up with the disorder, especially for those suffering from Type 1 diabetes. In this type of diabetes, the body’s immune system itself attacks and destroys insulin as well as the cells that produce the hormone in the pancreas. Without the insulin, the body is unable to convert sugar and other food into energy that the body uses.

Currently, insulin is given to diabetic patients by means of shots that enable the hormone to go straight into the bloodstream. But there has recently been a study that aimed to produce insulin capsules in the future. This may be possible with the help of a little genetic engineering.

According to an article in the Science Daily,, a team of researchers, headed by Professor Henry Daniell from the University of Central Florida have genetically engineered tobacco plants with the insulin gene and then administered resulting freeze dried plant cells to five-week old diabetic mice in powder form in a period of eight weeks. It resulted in mice having normal urine and blood sugar levels with their cells now being able to produce normal levels of insulin.

The study will someday give way for insulin capsules to be produced that would someday help prevent diabetes even before the symptoms of the disorder appear or effectively treat diabetes in its later stages. Aside from tobacco, which may have a negative air associated with it, the researchers in the study suggest using lettuce instead which can also be cultivated cheaply in the process of producing insulin in its capsule form.

What makes the study have a greater significance in the advancement of diabetes treatment is an alternative means of introducing the insulin hormone in the body. By genetically engineering the hormone into the plant cells of a parent plant, the cell walls would be able to help prevent the insulin from degrading.

Insulin will be released as the plant cells reach the human intestine where the bacteria there will begin breaking down the cell walls gradually. And when insulin is produced eventually from lettuce, it can be administered in powder form in capsules, making them a more convenient approach to treating diabetes that by getting insulin shots daily. This would be a welcome development for over millions of diabetics worldwide and may help reduce the costs of treating the disorder dramatically.

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