Insulin inhaler works as well as diabetes shots, study says Possible help for those who fear injections

June 17, 1998|By KNIGHT RIDDER/TRIBUNE

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- An experimental insulin inhaler worked just as well as injections in a study of diabetics, which was released yesterday at the annual American Diabetes Association conference in Chicago.

If the inhaler is effective in large trials starting this fall, it may some day replace most or all of the daily shots that diabetics need, a University of Miami professor said in releasing the study.

"This could dramatically change the way we treat diabetes," said Dr. Jay Skyler, lead researcher in the study. "It would allow people who are afraid of injections -- and not willing to take insulin -- to get the best treatment."

Needles are the biggest single obstacle to giving insulin to diabetics, especially among children, doctors said.

Instead of taking one to four injections a day, 60 diabetics in the study inhaled one or two puffs of a fast-acting powdered insulin with each meal. They also took their normal injection of long-acting insulin before bed.

The inhaler, which collapses to a tube of 4 by 1 1/2 inches, is portable, easy to use and does not risk infections and bleeding. The plastic packets of powdered insulin do not need to be refrigerated.

"I just love it," said Paul Metalis, an accountant from Florida who has used the inhaler for a year as part of the study. "You can take it whenever you want to. I've inhaled in the middle of the Orange Bowl at a UM Hurricanes game."

About 16 million Americans have diabetes, an inability to process blood sugar. It's a leading cause of many complications such as blindness and kidney disease.

The study looked at 120 adult patients, 70 with type 1 diabetes, in which the pancreas does not produce insulin, and 50 with the more common type 2, in which the body fails to use insulin properly. Half of each group in the study was randomly assigned to use inhalers, the rest to normal injections.

After three months, Skyler said, blood levels had improved the same amount for all patients, indicating the inhaler worked for both groups.

Skyler said no patients felt side effects or discomfort. Metalis agreed.

The inhaler, being developed by Inhale Therapeutic Systems and Pfizer Inc., is to be tested on more than 1,000 patients starting in November.

Pub Date: 6/17/98

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