University of Calgary

Insulin nasal spray

June 25, 2009

Insulin nasal spray could help diabetics suffering from a debilitating nerve disease

Dr. Korngut (left) and Cory Toth display the isulin spray that could help diabetics suffering from a debilitating nerve disease.
Dr. Lawrence Korngut (left) and Dr. Cory Toth display the isulin spray that could help diabetics suffering from a debilitating nerve disease.
Clinical scientists at the Hotchkiss Brain Institute (HBI) in the Faculty of Medicine are starting a pilot study for local patients with type 1 diabetes, looking at the delivery of insulin through the nose as a potential new treatment for diabetic neuropathy, a diabetic nerve disease.

About 50 percent of people with diabetes will develop the debilitating and painful nerve disease. Currently, the treatments for diabetic neuropathy are limited to pain management.  The lack of effective treatment options is prompting excitement about the potential of this new approach.

Dr. Cory Toth, a neurologist and assistant professor in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences, is co-leading the new study. His laboratory work, which demonstrated that intranasal (delivered through the nasal passageway) insulin helps protect nerves in the brain and central nervous systems of mice, was published in the journal Diabetes. 

Now Toth will measure the impact on people. “The patients that I see in my practice develop problems where they can’t feel their feet, stub their toes, develop wounds, and also deal with severe pain.”

Jessica Revell is a 21-year old who has type 1 diabetes. She hopes the new treatment can help her. Sometimes her pain is so severe she can’t sleep and she requires strong painkillers. She’s also had to withdraw from school courses and stop working. “If I could get off the pills I’m on and inhale a spray, I could get back to school full time to work towards my education degree. It would make a huge difference in my life,” she says.

Toth says his research shows that nerves are deficient in insulin and that delivering drugs through the nose targets the nervous system while insulin delivered under the skin provides enough insulin to regulate sugars in the body but leaves insufficient amounts for nerves. Toth likens it to the nerves starving for insulin.

It is estimated that only two percent of an insulin shot migrates to the brain and nerves, while approximately 98 percent of insulin administered into the nose migrates directly to the brain.  Toth says that the insulin then travels along the nerves of the spinal cord to peripheral nerves providing the protection they need from degeneration.

Targeting drugs to the brain using the nose is not a new concept.  However, this is the first time that researchers have tried using this approach to target the nervous system and treat diabetic neuropathy.

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