Support student research to produce insulin for all

We are running a  fundraising campaign to support graduate student research to develop a small-scale manufacturing process to produce insulin for all.


donate now

Need to produce insulin for all

Since its discovery in 1921, insulin has revolutionized the quality and quantity of life for persons with diabetes. Yet, despite its long market history, the cost of insulin has continued to rise. In inner cities, the leading cause of diabetic ketoacidosis – a potentially fatal condition – is stopping or inconsistent insulin treatment, and the cost is a major reason reported for this. Cited examples of health risks from high insulin costs include rationing treatments, using expired products, fasting, and even intentionally inducing diabetic ketoacidosis in order to obtain insulin from hospital emergency rooms.

The high cost of insulin results from a combination of factors including patents, regulations, and the cost of manufacturing and marketing the drug. As this drug nears its centennial birthday, this much is clear, the status quo for the insulin industry has to change if the cost is ever going to come down. We need to come up with a new model for how insulin is produced, approved, and distributed. The old model, which relies on centralized manufacturing controlled by a complex web of regulations and patents, is not sustainable.

The idea: small-scale manufacturing

In the spring of 2018, we challenged six students in the Chemical and Biological Engineering Department to imagine a more affordable way to produce insulin as their senior design project. They developed a model for producing insulin at small scales at lower costs.

As we described in a recent publication, there are several advantages to producing insulin at smaller scales. Producing insulin “on-site” reduces costs associated with storage and shipping. Scaling down also decreases the number of people impacted by a single contamination event. Importantly, scaling down decreases the need for infrastructure, so that production isn’t limited to pharmaceutical companies. Hospitals have already announced their intentions to begin manufacturing some of their own medicines. Insulin could be one of those medicines if the technology needed to make it at small scales was developed and tested.

When the senior design team presented their results at the annual showcase, they received a second-place award and lots of positive feedback.

We are raising funds to put their ideas to the test as part of an ongoing project for training students to shape the future of drug manufacturing.

The project: prototyping key technologies

The manufacturing of a drug like insulin is a complex process that involves multiple steps. In the context of this project, we want to demonstrate that it is possible to miniaturize each of the steps and integrate them into a small and cheap manufacturing process. The performance of the process will be measured in the lab using chemical assays.

Graduate students will develop key technologies that would enable the implementation of the senior design team’s plan. This is an ideal training project for students interested in working in biomanufacturing as they will gain exposure to every stage of the biomanufacturing process from production to extraction to purification to quality control.

As the project progresses, it will inform future senior design projects, involving half a dozen students every year. Graduate students will work closely with each senior design team providing opportunities for mentoring experience as well.

Analyzing the process safety is beyond the scope of this project. We will not test insulin on animals or on patients.

The budget

This project is small in scale, student-led, and student-focused, so it doesn’t fit well into traditional funding mechanisms who tend to reward more conservative approaches. This why we are running a fundraising campaign that will allow us to collect the data needed to demonstrate the feasibility of this approach.


Your support will benefit society in different ways:

  • It will provide a one-of-a-kind training opportunity that will prepare promising students to imagine different ways to give patients access to life-saving drugs
  • It will provide data that could support requests for additional funding from the National Science Foundation or the National Institutes of Health
  • It will provide open source foundation technologies that will be freely available to all stakeholders of the pharmaceutical industry and healthcare systems.

Join us to make a difference by supporting this project.

donate now