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Genetically Modified vs. Natural Human

Insulin: Genetically Modified vs. Natural Human

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(Modified) Question: Is the use of
Genetically Modified Insulin for diabetics better than the alternative, natural
animal insulin?


For the past 80 or so years,
patients who have been suffering from all forms of Diabetes Mellitus, Type 1 or
2 have been able to treat their Diabetes with the use of insulin injections and
supplementation. We learnt in Grade 11 that Diabetes is caused by either a lack
of insulin production (Type 1) or an insulin resistance (Type 2). However, by
means of physical insulin insertions, natural insulin levels are successfully
maintained and, hence, are able to fulfil their role of monitoring and lowering
glucose levels in the bloodstream. ["Insulin
cannot be taken as a pill. The insulin would be broken down during digestion
just like the protein in food. Insulin must be injected into the fat under your
skin for it to get into your blood
."] (Quote from Source 2) [1,2]

From 1921 until 1983, the only
available ‘replacement’ insulin is known as ‘Natural Human Insulin’. The
insulin would be derived from the pancreases of cows and pigs, primarily, as
well as, occasionally, fish and horses. Research on insulin preparation from
these sources was still taking place when pharmaceuticals began selling it to
the public. As a result, problems did occur, particularly early on, with
patients experiencing allergic reactions to the injection of insulin. This was
due to a lack in the purity of insulin that was being marketed, with other
substances being included in production. By the 1970s, pharmaceutical companies
guaranteed 99% purity of their insulin products, due to a process known as
H.P.L.C. (High Performance Liquid Chromatography), which allowed Biochemists
working on insulin to identify chemicals in a compound, such as their produced
insulin. Separation and quantification of the various elements contributing to
the synthesis of the compounds was also made possible, and in this way they
could eliminate the impurities from their insulin products.  However, as different patients have slightly
different insulin needs depending on their individual body chemistry,
‘variations’ of insulin are still offered, particularly depending on how quick
the insulin needs to work. "Zinc suspension insulin is intermediate-acting
insulin, taking 1 – 1.5 hours to work and lasting 24 hours, while insulin
combined with zinc and promatine is longer-acting insulin, taking 4-6 hours but
lasting 36 hours." (Quote from Source 6). [3,4,6]

Then, in 1983, Eli Lilly, a pharmaceutical company, first marketed what they
termed ‘Synthetic Human Insulin’. These new insulin products were obtained with
the use of Biotechnology, using recombinant DNA therapy. Producers believe that
this production method reduces insulin impurities and, therefore, would reduce
the number of cases of allergic reactions experienced by patients who would,
before, have used natural insulin. The process of producing synthetic insulin
is made by identifying, isolating and copying the insulin producing genes in a
normal person. Then, using recombinant DNA therapy, the DNA of a host bacteria
cell is prepared, before the human insulin gene is inserted into the
bacterium’s DNA plasmid. The plasmid is inserted back into the cell. Then, through
DNA replication in the cell, the plasmids multiply within the cell. These cells
are gathered, purified and, once able to produce proteins, are available for
use in diabetics. (Process obtained from Source 5). As a result of its DNA
modifications, "it is absorbed more rapidly and has a short more manageable
duration of effectiveness… causes fewer allergic/autoimmune reactions than
[normal] insulin". (Quote from Source 4). [4,5]

From this, one could believe that
Synthetic Human Insulin is better and the way forward in modern medicine.
Clearly, companies like Eli Lilly
believe this is the case. It is reported that, in 1997, only ‘300 000 insulin
users were on animal insulins’. (Quote from Scott King, Diabetes Health Magazine, from Source 9). Furthermore, in 2006, Eli
Lilly announced a discontinuation of their animal insulin products, effectively
forcing all of their consumers onto the genetically modified stuff (they are
quoted as saying that supply for animal insulin had dropped below 1% in any
case). [4,9]

However, during my research, it came
to my attention that various users were not completely satisfied with the
modern insulin. In particular, they have suggested that, while synthetic
insulin reduces allergic reactions, it has been known to increase other side
effects, particularly hypo-glycemia (basically, the insulin ‘overworks’ and
causes blood glucose levels to plummet, resulting in lack of glucose supply to
the brain, causing problems as severe as seizures or comas). In one article I
resourced, a female patient testified that, "While taking "human"
insulin, my blood sugar control was poor. My blood test results were erratic
and often differed from what I expected." (Quote from Source 10). She went on
to say that, after changing to natural animal insulin, her "blood sugar control
improved immediately". In a U.K.
newspaper article, from The Guardian
(I located the article online, as Source 7), talked about the
‘potentially-lethal’ undocumented side-effects of ‘human’ insulin. He conceded
that there was no concrete evidence supporting this theory, but believed there
is still merit in considering the minority of cases of side-effects that have
been reported by users. The two cases exampled were that of individuals
experiencing ‘blackout’ and severe, uncontrollable aggression and rage. Another
electronic source (Source 8) has listed, under the sub-heading ‘Facts’, that,
"GM synthetic ‘human’ insulin causes side effects for some people that largely
disappear with a change to natural animal insulin." (Quote from Source 8). The
source continues, also acknowledging the occurrence of hypoglycaemia and
noting, as I have discovered, there have been no large-scale experimental
comparisons that have been conducted, comparing the two types of insulin.

From this, I can, subjectively,
conclude that natural animal insulin is the safer option for Diabetic patients.
While synthetic insulin may work better, one cannot ignore the cases of
side-effects, given their isolation. Therefore, I would suggest that a Diabetic
patient should consider at least waiting for more information and available
research regarding Synthetic Insulin before they use it. Of course, companies
like Eli Lilly have made access to animal ‘insulins’ more difficult.



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