A simple Pill Can Now Replace Insulin Injections for Some People with Diabetes

Insulin injections are no fun. For those of us who do them on a regular basis, they become more bearable over time. But just imagine a world in which you didn’t have to inject yourself or anyone else ever again. It’s a pretty nice thought, isn’t it?

Well, as it turns out, that may be possible for some people with diabetes. A recently completed 10-year study by the University of Exeter followed 81 children with neonatal diabetes, meaning they were born with the condition and diagnosed within the first six months of life. Neonatal diabetes is a kind of type 1 diabetes often caused by a mutation in the KCNJ11 gene that is partially responsible for the proper function of insulin-producing cells.

Photo: Adobe Stock/Gajus
Photo: Adobe Stock/Gajus

The study found that sulphonylurea tablets were an effective replacement for insulin injections in people with neonatal diabetes and kept blood sugar levels in excellent control (even better than insulin did in many cases) for the full length of the study.

Sulphonylurea is a class of oral drug commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes, sometimes in conjunction with other drugs, such as metformin. Sulphonylureas work by stimulating the pancreas to produce more insulin and helping the body use that insulin more effectively.

“Switching from regular insulin injections was life-changing for these people who had been on insulin all their life; many described it as ‘a miracle treatment’” says Professor Andrew Hattersley of the University of Exeter Medical School. “Not only does this eradicate the need to inject insulin several times a day, it also means much better blood sugar control.”

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Photo: Adobe Stock/Victoria M
Photo: Adobe Stock/Victoria M

Hattersley says this is the first study to prove the effectiveness of sulphonylurea tablets in neonatal diabetes over the course of such a long period of time, and all signs point toward the continued effectiveness of the drug for decades to come.

Sadly, those with type 2 diabetes have not experienced nearly the success that those in the study did—specifically people who had been diagnosed with diabetes within six months of birth. Study leader Dr. Pamela Bowman explains:

“Half of people with type 2 diabetes treated with sulphonylureas no longer have good blood sugar control after five years. Our study has found that in neonatal diabetes, the tablets are safe and they work long-term—with 93% of people in the study remaining on sulphonylureas alone after 10 years, with excellent blood sugar control.”

Photo: Adobe Stock/Tali Russ
Photo: Adobe Stock/Tali Russ

It’s strange to think that a medication specifically formulated for type 2 diabetes could be so effective for other diabetes patients as well—maybe even more effective. However, because this medication is not the right match for everybody, talk to your doctor if you’re thinking about switching or if you’re wondering what treatment combination will be right for you.

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