What is Recombinant Insulin?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 02 October 2019
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Recombinant insulin is insulin produced with the use of recombinant DNA technology, where snippets of DNA are inserted into organisms to encourage them to produce medically useful proteins and other compounds. Using recombinant technology allows for large scale production of various pharmaceutical products, in addition to increasing quality control and limiting risks such as allergic reactions. The most widely produced form of recombinant insulin is recombinant human insulin, designed for use in people with insulin deficiencies.

People with diabetes do not produce enough insulin, or do not respond to the insulin produced in the body, and may need insulin therapy to manage their condition. Historically, pigs and cattle were used to produce insulin for medication. In addition to being time consuming, this process was also inefficient, and exposed people to risks of allergic reactions to the foreign insulin, as well as the risk of zoonotic diseases. Even when carefully inspected and controlled, insulin supplies could be contaminated by things like prions, rogue proteins linked with neurological disorders.

With recombinant insulin, organisms like bacteria, plants, or yeasts are harnessed to produce insulin. The organism is genetically modified to express insulin in large volumes, and then cultivated in a lab setting. Supplies of insulin can be quickly and easily purified and are identical to regular human insulin, avoiding the problems associated with cow and pig sources.


Products known as insulin analogs are functionally the same as regular insulin, but act in slightly different ways. Many analogs are designed to act very rapidly, allowing for quick administration of insulin and greater control over insulin levels in the body. Recombinant technology has allowed companies to tweak insulin formulations to develop recombinant insulin that will act in different ways inside the body to achieve various desired effects, from a rapidly spiking dose for a patient in crisis to a more conventional slow absorption.

Recombinant insulin products are readily available on the market under a variety of brand names. These medications are always identified as recombinant medications so people understand the source and production methods involved. While there are no known dangers associated with using recombinant insulin and the hormone is chemically identical, some consumers do not like the use of recombinant technology and may seek out medication from other sources, if it is available. In the case of analogs, a doctor can discuss why a specific analog was prescribed or recommended and provide information about any alternatives the patient may be able to choose instead.


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