June 15, 2023: Scientists have created an insulin derived from plants, specifically lettuce, which is claimed to be a more affordable and secure substitute for regular hormone injections. A recent study led by Henry Daniell from Penn's School of Dental Medicine, published in the journal Biomaterials, highlights the potential of lettuce-based insulin to mitigate the various risks associated with conventional insulin treatment.

Recent clinical research indicates that the use of insulin pens for injections can lead to rapid entry of insulin into the bloodstream, potentially causing hypoglycemia, which refers to lower-than-optimal blood sugar levels. Although automated insulin pumps offer accurate insulin delivery and help reduce this risk, they are costly and accessible to only a limited number of individuals.

According to the new study, the limitations associated with insulin delivery could be addressed through the development of a plant-based oral administration of proinsulin.

Traditional insulin used in clinical settings lacks one of the three peptides found in natural insulin. However, the Daniell laboratory successfully produced a plant-based insulin that contains all three peptides and can be taken orally. The strong nature of plant cell walls safeguards insulin from stomach acids and enzymes until it reaches the gut, where it undergoes breakdown process by gut microbes. Following this, the released insulin is carried to the liver through the gut-liver axis.

This groundbreaking insulin is produced by utilising a "gene gun" to insert the human insulin genes into the resilient cell walls of lettuce, integrating them into its genetic composition. Subsequently, the lettuce is cultivated, freeze-dried, and transformed into a powder that can be ingested.

Daniell's method for producing insulin is significantly more cost-effective compared to the conventional approach, which entails intricate procedures and equipment. In the conventional method, insulin is cultivated in bacteria or yeast cells, which is a costly process that necessitates purification and the maintenance of low temperatures during transportation and storage. However, Daniell's production technique eliminates the requirement for expensive and intricate laboratory equipment and yields a product that remains stable at room temperature.

By harnessing the power of plants, researchers have paved the way for a future where individuals with diabetes can manage their condition more effectively and with greater convenience. With further advancements in this area, the prospect of a world where insulin is readily accessible and affordable to all, seems closer than ever before, bringing hope to millions of people worldwide.