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‘Game changer’: B.C. researchers developing oral insulin drops for diabetes patients

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Researchers at the University of British Columbia have developed a needle-free method for people with diabetes to control their blood glucose levels, which could change the way people manage the disease.


More than 11 million people in Canada are living with diabetes or prediabetes, with many requiring insulin doses to control their blood sugar. Typically, insulin is administered through an injection, but Dr. Shyh-Dar Li’s team at UBC has developed oral drops that can be placed under the tongue.


Li told CTV Morning Live his team began developing the option about three years ago, explaining the drops have a mixture of insulin and a unique cell-penetrating peptide, which helps the dose reach the bloodstream. Without that peptide, the insulin can remain stuck in the lining of the mouth, researchers explained.


Li called the discovery of that peptide “a game changer.”


“The regular dose people will get is likely just going to be one drop or two for most patients,” Li said about the new product. “But of course some patients might need more according to their blood glucose level.”


People without diabetes get insulin naturally from their pancreas, which regulates glucose after a meal, researchers explained. But those with diabetes can’t produce enough insulin and need to get it from an outside source. Some patients need at least three or four insulin injections per day.


Li said his team’s pre-clinical trial determined the drops work as quickly as a traditional insulin injection.


“It works instantly,” he said. “We are working really hard to … make larger doses, clinical-grade doses of this insulin drop.”


The team is conducting more tests to validate the safety of the drops. Li said they hope to do trials in humans in two years.


“If everything goes smoothly we are hoping that this product will be available in five years,” Li said, adding that he’s heard positive feedback from people with diabetes. “We have received many, many different emails just expressing their gratitude and excitement.” 

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