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Insulin

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Insulin is a hormone which regulates how sugar is processed in the body. It was named in 1909 by Jean de Meyer after the so-called islets of Langerhans, the structures in the pancreas which produce the hormone.

Insulin disturbance causes diseases such as diabetes. Before the development of a method to isolate and produce insulin, many diabetics fell into a coma and died for the lack of treatment. Insulin is used in the metabolism of almost all animals. Since the 1920s it has been derived from the pancreas of animals such as pigs, cows, horses and fish, and used to treat human patients.

Today, ‘human’ insulin can be made using genetically manipulated bacteria into which a human gene has been inserted to produce insulin. Because the molecule breaks down in the digestive tract it is usually injected directly into the bloodstream, rather than swallowed. Dosage is difficult, and different technologies have been developed to help patients regulate their insulin intake, such as insulin pumps or insulin pens.

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Bibliography

M Bliss, The Discovery of Insulin (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007)

Glossary:

Diabetes

This term refers to any form of metabolic disorder characterized by extreme thirst and excess urine production.

Bacteria

Micro-organisms which can cause disease but have an important role in global ecology.