Breathable insulin growing as delivery option for those with diabetes

One of the troubling medical trends is the increased number of people diagnosed with diabetes. The Department of Health now estimates that just under eight percent of Minnesotans, or about 320,000 people have either Type 2 or Type 1 that requires insulin. 

Insulins have dramatically improved in recent years along with the delivery devices. Among them is inhalable insulin that more patients are now discovering and starting to use.

In a small pouch, Kevin Michelizzi keeps cartridges of insulin that require no needle and no pump. It’s an inhalable insulin called Afrezza, which contains tiny particles of the drug that enter the lungs. This allows the insulin to enter the blood stream almost instantly to help the body process the energy in blood sugar.

It’s a relatively new form of insulin delivery that pharmacist and Ridgeview diabetes educator Dr. Stephanie Redmond says can be an option for some Type 1 patients.

“But often times I meet a patient who is taking multiple daily insulin injections,” said Dr. Redmond. “They are taking injections three to seven plus times a day, and what happens is you develop scar tissue all over your abdomen where you are continuously injecting that. And when you go to inject insulin into scar tissue, it doesn’t get absorbed, and it doesn’t work and you’re left with a high blood sugar after you eat. So changing to an inhaled option could also be an advantage for those patients.”  

It’s been a big advantage to Michelizzi who uses the short-acting inhalable insulin to keep his blood sugar levels consistently between 70 and 130. It’s not necessarily an advantage over insulin delivery through a pump, just a different option.

“I have patients who’ve been on insulin pumps for a while, and they want to go on a pump break, frankly, for the reason that they are developing scar tissue where that infusion set is," Dr. Redmond said. "I think this gives patients a sense of freedom that they don’t have to be hooked up to something. But, then again a pump has advantages that allows you to more fine-tune a dose that you are getting throughout the day.”

For Michelizzi, it’s easy and it works.

“You do have to be willing to manage your diabetes, if you aren’t then you are going to have the same problem that you have with any other tool,” he said. 

As of now Afrezza is only approved by the FDA for adults. It is undergoing clinical trials right now in children between the age of 8 and 12. Dr. Redmond says many insurers are now covering this insulin.