New Diabetes Treatments: No More Needles?

If you're worried that you'll be dealing with insulin shots for the rest of your life, don't despair just yet. Though injections are still the only effective way to deliver insulin to the body, a variety of new devices may be on the horizon. Here's a look at what's under development:

Inhalable Insulin

Efforts to come up with a safe, effective inhalable insulin so far have been unsuccessful, but companies keep on trying. The biotechnology company, MannKind Corporation, has not yet received FDA approval for Afrezza, its inhaled insulin, but is still hoping to eventually bring the product to market. Now the FDA wants two new studies of the device, which could potentially deliver insulin to individuals with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

Billionaire inventor Alfred Mann, who founded MannKind, told Bloomberg News, "We are encouraged that the FDA is asking for clinical studies only to confirm the bridging and handling of the next-generation device in order to compare it to the device used in our extensive clinical program. We remain committed to working with the FDA to make Afrezza available to people with diabetes."

While it's not likely that inhalable insulin will be available soon, it will make its debut at some point, says Geralyn Spollett, MSN, ANP-CS, CDE, associate director of the Yale Diabetes Center and president-elect of health care and education for the American Diabetes Association. "It's a device that will make a difference," she says. "And the one under development now is much more portable, about the size of an index card."

Insulin Patch

Applied directly to the skin, this would deliver insulin without a single injection. A patch would need to be reapplied every 24 hours, and would mostly benefit Type 2 diabetics since it only would deliver a continuous low dose of insulin. "People with Type 1 would also need rapid-acting insulin injections, so it would not be as useful to them, at least in the early stages," Spollett explains.

She says the likelihood of having the insulin patch available in the next two years "is pretty high, since three or four companies are working on it."

Insulin Throat Spray

This insulin delivery system sounds promising since the insulin is not inhaled and thus is not potentially hazardous to the lungs. Proven effective, according to Diabetes Forecast, it's not yet available in the U.S. Oral-lyn, made by Generex and delivered through a RapidMist device, is in use in certain countries.

Those who use this form of insulin hold the insulin in their mouth so it can be absorbed through the lining of the cheek. The cheek area is rich in blood vessels, meaning the drug is rapidly absorbed into the bloodstream. The user can adjust the insulin dosage upwards by bumping up the number of sprays. If it is approved in the U.S., it could certainly make life easier for individuals with diabetes who rely on insulin.

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"Generex Provides Update on Generex Oral-lyn Clinical & Regulatory Program." PR Newswire. 16 June 2011