insulin therapy

The Evolution of Insulin Therapy: Landmark Clinical Trials in Diabetes Management

The journey to today’s advanced insulin therapy has been a gradual, meticulously researched progression. Landmark clinical trials have played an instrumental role in shaping the development and understanding of insulin therapy for diabetes management. This article discusses some pivotal trials and their transformative impacts on insulin therapy for diabetes.

The Discovery of Insulin

Before insulin’s discovery, a diabetes diagnosis was often a death sentence. Things took a turn in the early 20th century when Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and colleagues carried out pioneering work, leading to the extraction of insulin.

They conducted a series of experimental studies on dogs, leading to the first successful insulin injection in a human in 1922. Banting and Macleod received the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this revolutionary discovery in 1923. The discovery of insulin paved the way for the development of various insulin types and delivery methods that transformed diabetes management.

The Advent of NPH Insulin

The 1950s marked another critical advancement with the introduction of NPH (Neutral Protamine Hagedorn) insulin. Until then, people with diabetes had to take multiple insulin injections throughout the day. The development of NPH insulin, a longer-acting insulin, allowed for fewer daily injections.

Clinical trials showed that NPH insulin provided better glycemic control with less hypoglycemia compared to the then-standard therapy. This progress improved the quality of life for many people living with diabetes, reinforcing the importance of long-acting insulins in diabetes management.

Emergence of Insulin Analogues

The late 20th century witnessed the development of insulin analogues, designed to better mimic the body’s natural insulin release. Landmark trials, such as the DCCT (Diabetes Control and Complications Trial), highlighted the importance of tight glucose control in preventing diabetes complications.

The advent of short-acting analogues like insulin lispro and insulin aspart, and long-acting analogues such as insulin glargine and insulin detemir, was a significant step forward. These analogues had altered absorption, distribution, metabolism, and excretion profiles that provided smoother, peakless, and more predictable action. Clinical trials showed that insulin analogues resulted in less hypoglycemia, fewer nocturnal attacks, and improved postprandial glucose control compared to human insulin.

Insulin Pump Therapy

The development of insulin pump therapy or continuous subcutaneous insulin infusion (CSII) was another milestone in diabetes management. In trials, CSII has shown superior glycemic control, improved quality of life, and fewer hypoglycemic episodes compared to multiple daily injections (MDI).

Additionally, the advent of sensor-augmented pump therapy, which integrates continuous glucose monitoring with insulin pump therapy, has revolutionized diabetes care. The STAR 3 trial showed that sensor-augmented pump therapy led to better glycemic control than MDI therapy in both adults and children with type 1 diabetes.

Artificial Pancreas Systems

The artificial pancreas or closed-loop system, which automates insulin delivery based on real-time glucose levels, represents the latest advancement in insulin therapy. The closed-loop system integrates insulin pumps with continuous glucose monitors, regulated by a sophisticated algorithm.

Several clinical trials have shown that closed-loop systems improve time-in-range (the percentage of time blood glucose levels are within the target range) and reduce hypoglycemia and hyperglycemia, without increasing the risk of severe hypoglycemia. These systems have been a game-changer, especially for people with type 1 diabetes.

Insulin Inhalation Therapy

Insulin inhalation therapy, although not widely used, represents a unique approach to insulin delivery. The most well-known inhaled insulin, Exubera, was available commercially but was withdrawn due to poor sales and concerns about lung function.

However, Afrezza, a new inhaled insulin, has shown promise. Clinical trials have demonstrated its efficacy in controlling postprandial glucose levels with a lower risk of hypoglycemia. However, long-term studies on safety and efficacy are ongoing.

Insulin Therapy and Cardiovascular Safety

Cardiovascular safety of newer insulins has been an area of focus in recent clinical trials. The ORIGIN trial (Outcome Reduction with Initial Glargine Intervention), studying insulin glargine, showed a neutral effect on cardiovascular outcomes, alleviating fears about insulin’s potential cardiovascular risks.

Ultra-Fast Acting Insulins

The desire for faster insulin action to improve postprandial glucose control led to the development of ultra-fast acting insulins. Fiasp (insulin aspart) and Lyumjev (insulin lispro-aabc) are two such examples. These insulins contain additives to accelerate absorption, hence quicker onset of action and shorter duration.

Clinical trials have shown that ultra-fast acting insulins improve postprandial glucose control and provide greater flexibility for patients. This innovation allows for dosing just before or even after meals, making diabetes management less burdensome.

Insulin Degludec: A New Long-Acting Insulin Therapy

Insulin degludec is a new ultra-long-acting insulin with a duration of action exceeding 24 hours. Its unique structure results in a stable, continuous release of insulin, reducing the risk of hypoglycemia and providing more consistent blood glucose control.

In the BEGIN trial, insulin degludec demonstrated similar glycemic control to insulin glargine but with significantly fewer nocturnal hypoglycemic episodes. This development represents another significant advancement in long-acting insulin therapy, offering an effective and safer option for patients, especially those with a higher risk of hypoglycemia.

The Future: Oral Insulin and Beyond

While insulin injections and pumps are now commonplace, researchers are working on developing more user-friendly and non-invasive insulin delivery methods. Oral insulin has long been a dream in diabetes management, given its non-invasive nature and the potential for improved quality of life.

Several clinical trials are evaluating oral insulin’s efficacy and safety. While challenges, like ensuring insulin’s stability and absorption in the digestive tract, exist, the potential of oral insulin remains exciting.

Looking beyond insulin, researchers are exploring other therapeutic avenues. Islet cell transplantation and stem cell therapy have shown promise, but these are still in experimental stages. As our understanding of diabetes grows, it is likely we will see further innovations and new therapeutic approaches that will continue to revolutionize diabetes management.


The evolution of insulin therapy has been remarkable, and clinical trials have been at the forefront of these advances. They have been instrumental in demonstrating the efficacy, safety, and benefits of new insulins and delivery systems. As research continues, we can expect to see further advancements in insulin therapy, enhancing diabetes management and the quality of life for people living with diabetes.




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