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Hubbard on DNA



To the Editors of The Crimson:

Daniel Gil begins his article on the "race" for human insulin (Crimson, Nov. 14) with the statement that "This work, if successful, would provide an almost unlimited source of natural human insulin for diabetics at a low price, a very tangible medical benefit which would go far towards convincing the public of the benefits of recombinant DNA research."

It will have this effect only if "the public" is kept ignorant about the following, relevant facts:

1. that the currently available, highly purified preparations of pig and beef insulin are satisfactory so that there is no medical need for human insulin;

2. that there is no shortage of insulin;

3. that only about five percent of diabetics--mostly those who get the disease before age 20 (the "juvenile diabetics" of whom there are about 80,000 in the U.S.)--have an absolute requirement for insulin because their pancreas stops being able to make it, whereas most diabetics produce normal or greater than normal amounts, but appear to suffer from insulin insensitivity. Over time, as they are given insulin, they become less and less responsive to it, and then often are given more and more, so setting up a vicious circle;

4. that the problem, as many doctors see it, therefore is that most diabetics are given too much insulin and that they would be much better off if they were taught to control their blood sugar levels by what they eat. Since for many adult-onset diabetics obesity is part of the problem, diet can control both this associated cause and the insulin insensitivity;

5. that insulin does not improve the diabetes-associated vascular problems from which most diabetics die eventually. The focus on insulin as the "cure" distorts the picture most people have of diabetes and of the measures that might in fact improve it;

6. that at present the major expense of administering insulin is the cost of the throw-away syringes. Ruth Hubbard   Professor of Biology

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