Unveiling the Wonders of Animal Insulin

A Vital Tool in Diabetes Management. Animal insulin was the first type of insulin to be administered to humans to control diabetes. Animal insulin is derived from cows and pigs. Until the 1980s, animal insulin was the only treatment for insulin dependent diabetes.

These days the use of animal insulin has largely been replaced by human insulin and human analogue insulin, however, animal insulin is still available on prescription.


In the realm of medical science, few discoveries have been as transformative as insulin. This remarkable hormone, essential for regulating blood sugar levels, has been a lifeline for millions of people worldwide who live with diabetes. While synthetic human insulin is commonly used today, the history of insulin is intertwined with its animal-derived counterpart. In this blog post, we delve into the fascinating world of animal insulin, exploring its origins, production, and its significant role in diabetes management.

The Roots of Animal Insulin

The story of insulin began with the groundbreaking work of Frederick Banting, Charles Best, and their colleagues in the early 1920s. In their pursuit of a treatment for diabetes, they turned to animal sources, extracting insulin from the pancreases of animals such as cows and pigs. This animal-derived insulin marked a turning point in diabetes management, giving hope to individuals who previously faced dire consequences due to lack of effective treatment.

Production of Animal Insulin

Animal insulin is derived from the pancreas of certain animals, primarily pigs and cows. The pancreas is a glandular organ responsible for producing insulin among other vital hormones. The extraction process involves meticulously isolating and purifying insulin from the pancreas. The resulting insulin is then processed and formulated into various types of insulin that mimic the natural insulin release patterns in the human body.

Types of Animal Insulin

Animal insulin comes in different forms to accommodate varying patient needs:

  1. Regular Animal Insulin: This type of insulin closely resembles the insulin found in humans. It has a relatively slower onset and longer duration of action, making it suitable for managing blood sugar levels after meals.
  2. NPH (Neutral Protamine Hagedorn) Insulin: NPH insulin is a longer-acting insulin that provides a basal level of insulin throughout the day. It contains insulin mixed with protamine and zinc, which delay its absorption.
  3. Combination Insulins: These formulations combine animal insulin types to provide both basal and prandial (mealtime) coverage. They offer convenience by reducing the number of injections needed.

Advantages of Animal Insulin

  1. Historical Significance: Animal insulin is a testament to the ingenuity of early diabetes researchers, and it laid the foundation for our understanding of diabetes treatment.
  2. Availability: Animal insulin is still used in certain regions where synthetic human insulin might be less accessible or cost-prohibitive.
  3. Options for Allergic Reactions: Some individuals who experience allergies to synthetic human insulin may find animal insulin to be a suitable alternative.

Transition to Synthetic Insulin

Despite its historical significance, animal insulin has largely been replaced by synthetic human insulin and newer insulin analogs. The development of recombinant DNA technology in the 1970s allowed for the production of insulin that is nearly identical to human insulin, minimizing the risk of allergic reactions and other complications. Synthetic insulin analogs further improved diabetes management by offering more predictable and customizable insulin action profiles.


The evolution of diabetes management has been shaped by the discovery and development of insulin, both human and animal-derived. Animal insulin holds a special place in the history of medical science, providing a lifeline to countless individuals with diabetes. While synthetic human insulin and insulin analogs have taken center stage in contemporary diabetes care, we must not forget the pioneering work that laid the groundwork for our understanding of this life-saving hormone. The story of animal insulin is a reminder of the relentless pursuit of scientific progress to enhance the lives of those living with chronic conditions.

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