Alternative routes of insulin delivery

Diabet Med. 2003 Nov;20(11):886-98. doi: 10.1046/j.1464-5491.2003.01076.x.


Attempts at replicating physiological insulin secretion, as a means of restoring the normal metabolic milieu and thereby minimizing the risk of diabetic complications, has become an essential feature of insulin treatment. However, despite advances in the production, purification, formulation and methods of delivery of insulin which have occurred in recent years, this has met with limited success. The current advocacy of intensive insulin therapy regimens involving multiple daily subcutaneous injection places a heavy burden of compliance on patients and has prompted interest in developing alternative, less invasive routes of delivery. To date, attempts to exploit the nasal, oral, gastrointestinal and transdermal routes have been mainly unsuccessful. The respiratory tree, with a large surface area, offers the greatest potential for the delivery of polypeptide drugs and there is renewed interest in administrating insulin by the intrapulmonary route. Current pulmonary drug delivery systems include a variety of pressurized metered dose inhalers, dry powder inhalers, nebulizers and aqueous mist inhalers. Recent clinical studies suggest a possible role for inhaled insulin in fulfilling meal-related insulin requirements in persons with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes. Most experience with inhaled insulin has been obtained using either dry powder formulation in the Nektar Pulmonary Inhaler/Exubera device (Nektar Therapeutics Inc., San Carlos, CA, Aventis, Bridgewater, NJ, Pfizer, NY) or a liquid aerosol formulation in the AERx Insulin Diabetes Management System (Aradigm Corp., Hayward, CA, NovoNordisk A/S, Copenhagen, Denmark). If long-term safety and efficacy is confirmed, inhalation may become the first non-subcutaneous route of insulin administration for widespread clinical use. Despite overwhelming interest and investment in administering insulin via the oral route, success is not expected in the short term. Attempts at utilizing the buccal mucosa and skin are also continuing. Pancreatic transplantation will remain limited to those patients receiving a kidney transplant and immunotherapy. Islet cell transplantation is at an early though encouraging stage following the availability of new less toxic immunosuppressive agents. True insulin independence will require further advances in the combined fields of cell biology and genetics to ensure freedom from both the need for lifelong administration of insulin and the complications of diabetes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Buccal
  • Administration, Inhalation
  • Administration, Intranasal
  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Sublingual
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Drug Administration Routes
  • Humans
  • Insulin / administration & dosage*
  • Nebulizers and Vaporizers


  • Insulin