The Human Body


Insulin, hormone, produced in the islets of Langerhans of the pancreas, that regulates the metabolism of carbohydrates, fats, and starches in the body. Like other proteins, insulin is partially digested if administered orally and hence must be injected into a muscle when used clinically. In the treatment of diabetes mellitus, which is caused by a deficiency of insulin production or by inhibition of its action on cells, insulin is often combined with protamine, which prolongs the period of absorption of the hormone. Insulin crystallized from the pancreas contains zinc, which also lengthens absorption. A preparation called protamine zinc insulin extends the hormone's action still further.

Insulin was first extracted from the pancreatic tissue of dogs in 1921 by the Canadian physiologists Sir Frederick Grant Banting and Charles Herbert Best and the British physiologist John James Rickard Macleod. The Canadian biochemist James Bertram Collip then produced it in sufficiently pure form to be injected into humans. The molecular structure of insulin was determined in 1955 by the British biochemist Frederick Sanger; it was the first protein to be deciphered. Human insulin, the first human protein to be synthesized, was made in 1965. In 1981 insulin made in bacteria by genetic engineering became the first human hormone obtained in this way to be used to treat human disease. For the biochemistry of insulin, see Sugar Metabolism.