Human Insulin Danger Refuted

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Diabetics who take human insulin produced by genetic engineering techniques are no more prone to dangerous side effects than if they take insulin derived from animals, a team of British physicians reported last week in the Lancet. The study is the first to test the two types of insulin on patients who specifically complained of problems when switched from animal to bioengineered drugs.

Bioengineered insulin was first introduced in 1982 and is now used by about 80% of Britain’s 250,000 insulin-dependent diabetics. Older forms of insulin are made from the pancreases of pigs and cattle, but human insulin is cheaper to produce and purer.

Many diabetics have complained that the switch to human insulin suppressed the early symptoms that signal an attack of life-threatening hypoglycemia, or low blood sugar, thus eliminating the opportunity to take preventive action.

The researchers examined the records of about 6,000 diabetics and studied seven who seemed to lose their awareness of hypoglycemia after being switched to human insulin but regained it when returned to animal insulin. They administered both types of insulin to the seven and found that the patients could not discern which was which and that neither produced the previously described effects.