Scientists develop new plant-based oral insulin that is cheaper and safer than traditional insulin | Totally Vegan Buzz

Scientists develop new plant-based oral insulin that is cheaper and safer than traditional insulin

Scientists develop new plant-based oral insulin that is cheaper and safer than traditional insulin
Image: @phuclong / Unsplash

The plant-based insulin is made using lettuce.

 Scientists have developed plant-based insulin that is said to be a cheaper and safer alternative to conventional hormone injections.

According to a new study published in the journal Biomaterials, led by Henry Daniell of Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, lettuce-based insulin could address many of the risks associated with traditional insulin administration.

An estimated 537 million adults are living with diabetes worldwide and while clinical insulin has been in use for several decades, it has presented several challenges.

Firstly, traditional injection methods via insulin pens can cause the hormone to enter the bloodstream so quickly that hypoglycemia – an acute condition where blood sugar levels dip below a healthy range – becomes a serious concern. Automated insulin pumps can lessen the degree of risks, but they cost a lot and not everyone with diabetes can get them.

Moreover, clinical insulin lacks one of the three peptides found in natural insulin.

Plant-based insulin

To address the drawbacks of existing insulin delivery methods, UPenn’s Daniell lab created a plant-based insulin that has all three peptides and can be taken orally.

“The risk of hypoglycemia is one of the biggest disadvantages of the current delivery system and can even result in a coma. Our insulin, given orally, has all three proteins and is delivered right to the liver. It works just like natural insulin, which minimizes the risk of hypoglycemia,” Daniell said.

This revolutionary insulin is made using a “gene gun” to embed the human insulin genes into the tough plant cell walls of lettuce where they became a part of its genetic material. The lettuce is then grown, freeze-dried and ground into a powder that can be swallowed.

Daniell’s way of making insulin is far cheaper than the conventional one, which involves complex methods and equipment. The traditional insulin also has to be purified and stored in a cold place during transportation. Meanwhile, the plant-based insulin is shelf-stable; which makes it much cheaper to store and transport.

“With this delivery system, we change the whole paradigm, not only for insulin,” Daniell explained.

“I grew up in a developing country and saw people die because they couldn’t afford drugs or vaccines. For me, affordability and global access to health care are the foundation of my work. And in this case, we are making insulin more affordable while significantly improving it. Patients can get a superior drug at a lower cost.”

The vast potential of plant proteins in medicine

Daniell, a veteran in the field has long been involved in the research of harnessing plant-based protein for medical applications.

In 2015, he led a study which demonstrated the commercial viability of a low-cost drug derived from lettuce plants for haemophilia.

He also engineered plant-based medicines to treat pulmonary arterial hypertension, Alzheimer’s disease, polio, and dental plaque.

During the pandemic, he formulated a plant-based gum that lowered the amount of COVID-19 virus found in saliva.

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