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U.S. Drug Agency Urged to Approve Inhaled Insulin for Diabetics

I’m Shep O'Neal with the VOA Special English Health Report.

There may be an easier way for many people with diabetes to take insulin to control their blood sugar levels. Diabetics who now need daily injections may one day be able to take their insulin by mouth. They would breathe it as a powder into their lungs, through a mouthpiece device.

The inhaled insulin is called Exubera. The drug companies Pfizer, Sanofi-Aventis and Nektar Therapeutics developed it. They say it is generally as effective as the injected form in controlling blood sugar levels. But they say it should not always be used in place of longer-lasting injections of insulin.

Last month, an advisory committee of the United States Food and Drug Administration urged the agency to approve Exubera. The committee voted seven-to-two to support approval for both type one and type two diabetes. The F.D.A. generally follows the advice of its committees, but does not have to.

Some members of the committee expressed concern about possible safety risks, especially to people with lung disease. Smokers would probably not be able to use the inhaled insulin. But there are questions about the safety for people who breathe a lot of tobacco smoke in the air. The drug makers have proposed to study the long-term effects until two thousand nineteen.

Insulin is a hormone. The body needs it to change food into energy. With diabetes, the body produces no insulin or makes poor use of the limited amounts that are produced.

Diabetes can lead to heart disease, stroke and blindness. Feet or legs may lose blood flow and have to be removed.

Diabetics must be careful to control the sugar levels in their blood. But many people do not know they have diabetes. And no one knows what causes it.

The most common form is called type two diabetes. It was formerly called adult-onset diabetes. The body cannot effectively use the insulin it produces. Being overweight and not getting exercise increase the risk of type two diabetes. Some cases can be treated with pills. But millions of diabetics need several daily injections of insulin.

Less than ten percent of diabetics have type one diabetes. This is caused by the destruction of insulin-producing cells in the pancreas. It was formerly called juvenile diabetes, but it can happen at any age.

Pregnant women may develop gestational diabetes, which can be temporary.

This VOA Special English Health Report was written by Cynthia Kirk. I’m Shep O'Neal.