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    New Methods May Mean Fewer Insulin Shots for Diabetics

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    Christopher Price tells WebMD that, unlike others who have tried to make pills that protect insulin molecules from degradation by stomach acid, his company, Protein Delivery Inc., of Research Triangle Park, N.C., is taking a different approach. By modifying the insulin's structure with substances that protect it from degradation, then encapsulating the resulting gel-like substance, researchers have been able to get insulin to the liver intact.

    "This is important, not only because it mimics the pathway that insulin takes in a normal person, but it is the one thing that's missing from any other method of insulin delivery. They all go into the [bloodstream] first, and very little insulin, in a very delayed fashion, actually gets to the liver," Price says.

    The pill is being tested at Georgetown Medical Center in Washington. Price says a viable version is not expected before 2005. Like the spray products, it is meant to be used before meals as a supplement to long-acting insulin.

    Another promising advance involves an alternative to insulin itself. Investigators at Merck Research Laboratory are working with a compound derived from the leaf of an obscure fungus found in the Congo. In studies in animals, the fungus was found to mimic the effects of insulin.

    Vital Information:

    • Researchers are developing new ways to deliver insulin for diabetics who require it every day. Such methods could reduce a patient's use of injections.
    • Scientists are studying insulin inhalation devices and pills, and alternative, insulin-like medications.
    • Patients seem to like the concept of fewer insulin injections, but researchers need to determine whether these new products are safe and effective to use over a lifetime.
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