Flowers for Insulin

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I just had a lovely dip down to 38 mg/dl, so when I first saw a headline indicating that scientists had figured out a way to derive insulin from safflowers, I thought it might be time for another glucose tablet. But now that my blood sugar has rebounded, I can confirm that I was not, in fact, hallucinating: according to Canada’s CTV News, researchers at the University of Calgary have figured out a way to genetically manipulate safflower flowers to produce insulin. According to the article, “By inserting a human insulin gene into the plant, the safflowers become little insulin factories. Their seeds are then ground, the oil extracted, and the insulin harvested.”

More details:

[T]esting has found that the plant-produced insulin acts like the real thing when given to healthy volunteers.

“The insulin that they are making from the safflower works identically in the body and is chemically identical to the insulin we make from our pancreas,” Hollenberg told CTV.

The insulin the company is producing is officially called SBS-100, but its developers are dubbing it “Prairie insulin,” in honour of the region where safflowers grow so well.

Their work comes as insulin use rises every year, with more people with type 2 diabetes needing to use insulin because their diabetes medications are no longer working. The Calgary scientists say plant-based insulin could help meet that increasing demand.

Each acre of safflower flowers could produce more than one kilogram of insulin, which could treat 2,500 diabetic patients for one year. That means just 16,000 acres of safflowers could meet the world’s total demand each year.

I’m still not clear-headed enough to check their math, but regardless — this so-called Prairie Insulin has already gone through Phase 2 trials indicating that it’s safe for use in  humans, so it’s now on to phase 3 trials: seeing how it works in people who actually have diabetes. If it’s approved, it’ll further cement Canada’s reputation as the insulin capital of the world (it’s where insulin was discovered, after all). My question: what with all the bio-patenting going on, do you think there’s any chance a safflower insulin could qualify as generic?

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[…] issues in transplanting insulin-producing cells — whether they be from stem cells, pig cells, flowers, or anything else — is figuring out how to prevent the same part of your immune system that […]

Jessica Apple

Thanks for posting this, Catherine.  I’m at 142, not 38 right now, and I’m still not sure I’m reading this correctly.   If this is for real, it’s so exciting to me.  While the idea of pig insulin deeply disturbs me, the idea of flower insulin makes me happy.  Maybe next year Mikey will get me a fresh bouquet of insulin for Valentine’s.

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