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Home > About JDRF & our impact > Our research > Treatment research > Novel insulins
The term ‘novel’ insulins, means ‘new’ and covers both fast-acting insulins and glucose responsive ‘smart’ insulins. These insulins are all synthetic insulins, which means that they are chemically engineered in a lab.
As the name suggests, faster-acting insulins work faster to bring down blood glucose levels. The fastest insulins are called ultra-rapid insulins.
Ultra-rapid insulins have been edited to be absorbed slightly faster by the body than regular synthetic insulin. This means they reach the glucose in the blood in less time to start reducing blood glucose levels.
One of the challenges of closely managing glucose levels is that injected insulin takes longer to get to work than insulin produced naturally in the pancreas. That means that people with type 1 need to inject or infuse their insulin before eating, so it has more time to get working.
This slowness is also a barrier to fully automated closed loop (artificial pancreas) systems. As things stand, by the time these systems detect a rapidly rising blood glucose level caused by food or exercise, the insulin they deliver is too slow to compensate. That is why current hybrid closed loop systems still need the user to input food and exercise in advance.
Ultra-rapid insulins would give people with type 1 diabetes a lot more flexibility in their diabetes management. Eliminating the lag between injecting insulin and reducing blood glucose would allow people with type 1 to be more spontaneous.
Faster insulins could also enable us to create fully automated artificial pancreas systems that could take over the management of type 1 diabetes 24/7. A fully closed loop system would involve little to no input from the wearer, so they can spend less time managing their diabetes and more time living their life.
Creating faster-acting insulins is a key part of our work to improve the lives of people with type 1, until we find a cure.
Novel insulins also include ‘smart’ insulins, also known as glucose-responsive insulins, which are designed to turn on when they’re needed and off when they’re not.
A person living with type 1 would take smart insulin just once a day as a pill or injection. This insulin would then lie dormant in the body until it detected rising blood glucose levels. It would then work to stabilise the amount of glucose in the blood, before becoming dormant again.
Researchers are exploring different ways to create an effective smart insulin. One idea is to trap the insulin in a cage-like structure. The cage detects changing glucose levels and releases varying amounts of insulin in response.
Another option is to chemically edit insulin to make it sense glucose itself. Some researchers are trying to edit insulin even further to make it change shape in response to glucose. When glucose levels are low, the insulin molecule would be physically closed, like a clam. As glucose levels rise, the insulin would change shape to open up, allowing it to react to glucose.
In responding automatically to glucose levels in the blood, a smart insulin would essentially act the way insulin-producing beta cells do in a person without type 1 diabetes, freeing people with the condition from the relentless burden of glucose monitoring.
Although this research is at an early stage, at JDRF we believe this idea could be utterly transformative for people with type 1. An effective smart insulin could offer tight glucose management, eliminate hypos, reduce the risk of complications and free people from glucose monitoring. All of this would greatly reduce the burden of type 1.
JDRF is actively supporting novel insulin research. We’re currently funding projects across the world to explore different possible designs for faster and smarter insulins. One way we are doing this is through the Novel Insulins strand of the Type 1 Diabetes Grand Challenge, in partnership with the Steve Morgan Foundation and Diabetes UK.
Find out how this pioneering £50m research partnership between the Steve Morgan Foundation, JDRF and Diabetes UK will work to transform the lives of people with type 1.
Learn about how we're trying to find new ways to prevent, detect and treat the complications that living with type 1 can bring.
We have been at the centre of research developing hybrid closed loop (HCL) technology, also known as the artificial pancreas, for almost 20 years.
We are developing new treatments to lighten the burden of managing type 1 diabetes. Learn about the latest projects and discoveries.
It’s thanks to your dedication that we have funded great progress in type 1 cure, treatment and prevention research. Help us to continue our vital research.