Insulin May Not Need to Be Refrigerated After All, Study Shows

Until recently, it was believed that insulin needed to be stored in a cool place and was best kept in a refrigerator in order to ensure that it would be good up until its expiration date. However, recent research has found that not only does insulin not need to be refrigerated, but it can also survive undamaged in temperatures much hotter than one would likely expect.

The study, conducted by Doctors Without Borders (MSF) and the University of Geneva and published in the PLOS One medical journal, involved recording temperatures at the Dagahaley refugee camp in northern Kenya and reproducing those temperatures over four weeks at their laboratory. Four weeks is the time it usually takes someone with diabetes to finish a vial of insulin.

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The study results showed that insulin did not lose its efficacy after being opened and then stored for four weeks in temperatures ranging from 77 to 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit (up to 25 degrees Celsius).

In a news release, the team revealed that “the stability of insulin stored under these conditions is the same as that of cold-stored insulin, with no impact on efficacy.” Only one percent of potency was lost over the test period, the same as in a control batch of insulin that was kept in cold storage.

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“The current pharmaceutical protocol requires insulin vials to be stored between 2 C and 8 C until opened, after which most human insulin can be stored at 25 C for four weeks,” said Philippa Boulle, a non-communicable diseases advisor at MSF. “This is obviously an issue in refugee camps in temperatures hotter than this, where families don’t have refrigerators.”

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This information could be a game-changer for people with diabetes who travel frequently, spend time participating in outdoor activities such as camping and hiking, or experience regular power outages. The days of being unable to travel where you like because there’s no place to store your insulin are over.

More importantly, the new research could also make a huge difference for people in poorer regions of the world who don’t have regular access to refrigerators or even electricity. In certain parts of the world where temperatures are regularly in the high 70s or higher, people with diabetes are forced to travel to the nearest hospital to receive their insulin injections, sometimes multiple times per day, making it next to impossible to live a normal life with diabetes. Now many of those people will be able to take several days’ or weeks’ worth of insulin home with them.

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“These results can serve as a basis for changing diabetes management practices in low-resource settings, since patients won’t have to go to hospital every day for their insulin injections,” said Boulle.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the vast majority of the 422 million people worldwide living with diabetes are from low- and middle-income countries. 1.6 million deaths are attributed to diabetes every year. This research will go a long way to keep more people safe and healthy and preventing needless deaths.

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