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 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 tell them about food and exercise in advance.
Ultra-rapid insulins would give people with type 1 diabetes a lot more flexibility in their diabetes management.
Not only could they eliminate the lag between injecting and reducing blood glucose, but they could enable us to create fully automated artificial pancreas systems that can take over the management of type 1 diabetes 24/7.
That’s why they are a key part of our work to improve the lives of people with type 1, until we find a cure.
New insulins could 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 could take this insulin as a daily pill or injection. The smart 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.
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 intensive and painful 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.
At a stroke, an effective smart insulin could offer tight glucose management, eliminate hypos, reduce the risk of complications and free people from glucose monitoring.
What role is JDRF playing in the development of novel insulins?
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.