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University of Lethbridge team wins award for diabetes research

Click to play video: 'University of Lethbridge iGEM team wins gold for oral insulin research' University of Lethbridge iGEM team wins gold for oral insulin research
WATCH ABOVE: A research team from the University of Lethbridge has been working hard to develop an alternative to insulin injections for those living with diabetes. As Quinn Campbell reports, team members just won a gold medal for their work. – Nov 22, 2019

A research team from the University of Lethbridge has made a breakthrough that could one day be a game-changer for people living with diabetes.

Diabetes is a major global health issue affecting close to nine per cent of the world’s population.

The team recently competed in the U.S. at the International Genetically Engineered Machines (iGEM) competition and took home a gold medal for developing the world’s first-known oral insulin.

“Insulin, being a protein, it becomes broken down by acid very easily and your stomach acid is very acidic, obviously. So what we kind of thought was algae would act as an envelope to kind of deliver that,” said Luke Saville, a biochemistry student and the iGEM team’s leader.

READ MORE: Could Type 2 diabetes be reversed by reducing a protein in fat cells? UBC researchers think so

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After a few tries, the team was able to find the right combination, creating Algulin, an oral way to get insulin into the bloodstream.

“We did this in micro algae,” said Catrione Lee, a biology student and iGEM student leader.

“So conventionally it’s done in E. coli but we wanted to create an oral form, so we went about it this way in order to lower manufacturing costs and hopefully produce an alternative that could be available on the market.”

Right now the most common method of managing diabetes is through insulin injections, which can be costly and painful.

Some patients must self-administer the drug up to six times per day.

READ MORE: Reality check: Can you reverse diabetes by changing your diet?

The U of L’s iGEM team says it will now try to find investors to get the new concept to market.

“We are looking for sponsors to go to a mouse trial and then from there on, you obviously want the approval, and human trials eventually in the future,” said Dia Koupantsis, a biological sciences student and iGEM team member.

“It’s not something that is going to be done soon but it’s something that is very promising.”

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