Insulin – A golden drug

We need science and technology to create wonders. According to the current statistics, every 10th person in the world has been diagnosed with diabetes. Thus, it is kind of hard for us to even remember the time when diabetic people almost always died soon after the diagnosis. Since the condition is diagnosed with high blood sugar arising from abnormal insulin production, the treatment strategy simply involved insulin administration for managing the disease in patients. 

Luckily for the human race, insulin was not unique to just us – many animals, especially mammals, also produce it to manage their glucose levels in the blood. In the mid-20th century, the insulin produced by pigs or calves was used for treatment, and this strategy helped save millions of human lives back then. Since the pancreas is not as appetizing as other parts, most of the insulin could be extracted from the discarded pancreas of the animals, which were slaughtered for food. 

A huge downside of insulin therapy for treating diabetes is that the affected person has to depend on the hormone all his life. Thus, the ever-increasing demand for insulin could not be met by simply slaughtering more animals. One can estimate how many pigs had to be killed when you can extract only 112 g of insulin from a ton of pig pancreas. And well, how much is that 112 g of insulin when millions of people need daily doses in twos and threes. 

And so, when the world witnessed the emerging recombinant DNA technology, the traditional method also saw an update. Insulin was later produced by bacteria that could produce insulin – well, with the help of certain ‘foreign genes,’ of course, since bacteria do not produce insulin on their own. Moreover, the fact that insulin is actually just a small protein (with only 51 amino acids) and whose sequence was already known – thanks to Frederick Sanger – a step could be skipped. And, as the process called for the transfer of insulin-producing genes into the bacteria, wasn’t it better to simply transfer the human genes instead of the genes from pigs to get the final product closest to ours? 

Once the recombinant bacteria were produced – the ones with insulin-producing genes – the production process became even simpler. Since the bacteria can divide on their own and multiply, all we need to do is let the bacteria divide. The more they divide, the more insulin would be produced. And that’s exactly what the bright minds of the 20th century did, and viola, we had Humulin at no further expense of animal lives. Besides, Humulin is particularly similar to the hormone produced within the body, which avoids causing any allergic reactions. An added advantage of recombinant insulin is the consistency of the product quality – which could not be guaranteed when the hormone was being extracted from animals. And we don’t really need to talk about the cost since recombinant insulin is comparatively cheaper. Aren’t these the most sought-after advantages for a product? The purpose of scientific advancement! Not only did Biotechnology assist in sparing the animals, but it also made the product superior to the previous one.

And that’s why we need science – to evolve by progressing!

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