Breathing It In
“Why can’t I swallow it, the way I take vitamins?” Like many young children diagnosed with type 1 diabetes, I struggled to make sense of the recent changes in my life. Up until now, my definition of “medicine” was something you put in your mouth or smeared on your skin.
My father was bombarded with a new set of questions every day. And he was admirably patient about it. “If you swallow insulin,” he explained. “Your tummy will just think it’s more food. The insulin will get broken down, instead of going where it’s supposed to.” I imagined my stomach as a sack of liquid filled with “break down” juices. I pictured food getting chomped and churned up into a useless paste.
“Huh.” I nodded slowly. In my opinion, my dad knew everything about everything. Asking him a question was easy-access to the universal truth. And insulin didn’t smell like something I was supposed to put in my mouth or smear on my skin, anyway.
The Un-learning Process
As a six-year-old, I learned to accept that insulin could only be taken through injections. My father’s explanation remained unchallenged throughout my childhood and the majority of my adult life.
But new research and biotech developments seem to be altering what has served me as a “universal truth” for so long. And not only has inhaled insulin been studied and developed, it is about to hit the market with more force than in past years.
I recently had the opportunity to meet Dr. John Patton and Dr. Tyler Martin of Dance Biopharm, at the July 2015 Lyfebulb event. Their presentation about inhaled insulin supplied me with new information, which meant that I had to fully un-learn my previous notions of insulin as an injection-only medication.
While the product they have developed is not yet on the market, Dr. Martin stated, “We are fortunate to be the third inhaled insulin product. We’re the best of the three. By being the third, we’ve been able to learn from the development path of the others… So in a few years, we should be ready to have our product approved by the FDA.” He added, “We know that it’s effective. We know that it’s safe. It’s a matter of doing the proper trials to demonstrate that to the agencies.”
Dr. Patton asserted, “I feel very confident that this is going to be a reality. It’s inevitable.” He showed the medical device and the accompanying vial of insulin, explaining, “after working with every imaginable type of inhaler out there, this device was carefully selected for a number of reasons. First of all, it delivers a soft, gentle mist. We know from over 120 clinical trials that this mist is what diabetes patients like the best. It’s also electronic, so it enables us to add features; communication features or just pure memory.”
Dr. Patton demonstrated that the vial holds enough insulin for about a month, and is designed as a mixture of mostly insulin and water. This solution gets inhaled deep into the lungs where it can be absorbed.
I believe that eliminating injections is an exciting direction for diabetes research. I can imagine that many people would prefer taking medication through an inhaler-type-of-device rather than shots. If it can be verified that this new insulin is as effective as current leading diabetes medications, there will probably be a good market for it.