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Insulin and tissue health, 100 years of insulin discovery


In a study that examined the effect of insulin – researchers have uncovered how insulin amounts shape the flow of information through the signalling network. It showed that abnormalities in insulin signalling impacts health and survival of tissues.

2021 is a year to celebrate, as it marks the centenary of the discovery of insulin in 1921 at the University of Toronto, Canada.


Prelims, GS-III: Science and Technology

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What is Diabetes?
  2. Basics of Insulin and Glucagon
  3. Insulin’s role in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes
  4. What is Human Insulin?

What is Diabetes?

  • Diabetes is a chronic, progressive non-communicable disease (NCD) characterized by elevated levels of blood sugar (blood glucose).
  • It occurs when:
  • the pancreas does not produce enough of the insulin hormone, which regulates blood sugar
  • the body cannot effectively use the Insulin it produces.
  • Diabetes is a major cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, stroke and lower limb amputation.
  • Hyperglycaemia, or raised blood sugar, is a common effect of uncontrolled diabetes and over time leads to serious damage to many of the body’s systems, especially the nerves and blood vessels.
  • There are 2 types od diabetes:
    1. Type 1 diabetes occurs when the body doesn’t make enough insulin,
    2. Type 2 diabetesoccurs when the body doesn’t make or use insulin very well, causing glucose to remain in the blood, which can lead to serious problems.
  • The main symptom of diabetes is excess fatigue, frequent urination, dysentery, excessive thirst, etc.
  • Diabetes can also be genetic, but its main cause is obesity, lack of adequate nutrition, etc.
  • People with type 1 diabetes require insulin, people with type 2 diabetes can be treated with oral medication, but may also require insulin; blood pressure control; and foot care.

Basics of Insulin and Glucagon

  • Insulin and glucagon are hormones that help regulate the body’s glucose levels.
  • Insulin helps store glucose in the liver, fat, and muscles and also regulates the body’s metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins. Insulin also assists in breaking down fats or proteins for energy.
  • The pancreas is an organ behind the stomach that is the main source of insulin in the body. Clusters of cells in the pancreas called islets produce the hormone and determine the amount based on blood glucose levels in the body.
  • The higher the level of glucose, the more insulin goes into production to balance sugar levels in the blood.
  • When the body digests food rich in carbohydrates, glucose is released into the bloodstream. This leads to an increase in blood glucose levels in the body. Most of this glucose is used up to provide energy to the cells. The excess glucose in the bloodstream is converted into glycogen and absorbed by the liver and muscle cells to be used later.
  • Several hours after a meal, the blood glucose levels in the body are low. This signals the pancreas to secrete glucagon, which signals the liver and muscle cells to convert the glycogen back to glucose, which is then readily absorbed by the other cells to produce energy.

Insulin’s role in Type 1 and Type 2 Diabetes

  • In some people, the immune system attacks the islets, and they cease to produce insulin or do not produce enough. When this occurs, blood glucose stays in the blood and cells cannot absorb them to convert the sugars into energy. This is the onset of type 1 diabetes, and a person with this version of diabetes will need regular shots of insulin to survive.
  • In some people, especially those who are overweight, obese, or inactive, insulin is not effective in transporting glucose into the cells and unable to fulfill its actions. The inability of insulin to exert its effect on tissues is called insulin resistance. Type 2 diabetes will develop when the islets cannot produce enough insulin to overcome insulin resistance.

What is Human Insulin?

  • The human insulin is the synthetic insulin that is grown in the laboratory to imitate the insulin in humans. After developing it in the 1960s to 70s, it was finally approved for medical purposes in 1982.
  • Before the human insulin was developed, porcine insulin, an animal insulin was used by the doctors.
  • Human insulin was first synthesised in the year 1975, by Dr Teusche, in Switzerland.
  • The first synthetic human insulin was approved in the year 1982, by the Food and Drug Administration, US.
  • In the 1990s, a more advanced form of human insulin was developed. This was known as analogue insulin.

-Source: The Hindu

December 2023