Not everyone with type 2 diabetes needs insulin—the condition can often be controlled with drugs and lifestyle changes—but those who do often dislike the daily injections. They might be happy to hear about an experimental form of insulin that's slowly absorbed over time, allowing just three shots a week. It’s called insulin degludec.
In a new study, people had insulin degludec three times a week, once a day at a higher dose, or once a day at a lower dose. Some people had daily injections of another type of slow-acting insulin, insulin glargine. All the people in the study had type 2 diabetes, and were also taking a diabetes drug called metformin, which helps the body burn glucose.
All the treatments seemed to work about as well as each other. HbA1c levels (a kind of long-term average of someone’s blood glucose) were 7.3 percent after three doses a week of the new treatment, 7.4 percent after the lower daily dose, 7.5 percent with the higher daily dose, and 7.2 percent with daily insulin glargine. The target level for a typical person with diabetes is around 7.0 percent.
Side effects were much the same for everyone, whichever treatment they had. Only one person got a severe case of low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), and they had been having three injections per week.
The study was funded by Novo Nordisk, the manufacturer of insulin degludec.
The new study is fairly small, looking at just 245 people. It lasted only 16 weeks. It will take much larger studies to know whether less frequent insulin injections are really as good as daily shots. It’s also important to know what the long-term effects are on the complications of diabetes, such as heart attacks or strokes.
The new kind of insulin will need further testing and a license from the FDA before it can be used in the United States. This process usually takes several years. However, it has the potential to make life easier for the millions of Americans who’ve been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Bottom line: In the future, long-lasting forms of insulin might only need to be injected once every few days, helping diabetics manage their condition more easily. But it’s likely to be a few years at least before insulin degludec hits the market.
Read more on the secrets to diabetes management.
Insulin degludec, an ultra-long-acting basal insulin, once a day or three times a week versus insulin glargine once a day in patients with type 2 diabetes The Lancet
—Philip Wilson, BMJ Group
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