This Insulin-Delivering Pill Could Replace Injections for Diabetics

Alicia Farmer
February 9, 2019

Patients with type 1 diabetes can possibly replace daily injections with an oral insulin pill that will deliver the drug straight to the gut.

The capsule contains a tiny needle that is made nearly completely of freeze-dried insulin, and a spring - all held in place by a disc of sugar.

Next, the researchers measured how much insulin passed into the animals' blood and glucose levels before and after the experiment. Traverso and other co-authors are co-inventors on patent applications describing oral biologic drug delivery.

Other authors of the study had, several years ago, developed a pill coated with many tiny needles that could be used to inject drugs into the stomach's lining or the small intestine.

Since the capsule has only one needle, it has to be able to orient itself to deliver the injection. The new capsule's tip is made of absolutely compressed and freeze-drilled insulin and its shaft is biodegradable too.

When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall.

Stomach acid gradually dissolves the sugar until the spring pops, shooting the insulin into the stomach wall. If that sounds a bit painful, worry not - your stomach wall has no pain receptors. To make sure that the drug is injected into the abdomen wall, the researchers designed their system so that irrespective of how the capsule lands within the abdomen, it may well orient itself, so the needle is involved with the liner of the stomach. And for long time researchers have pursued a way to orally control insulin. Patients with T1D produce very little or no insulin meaning they require insulin to be administered every day to allow them to regulate the levels of glucose in their bloodstream. "Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection", " Traverso said.

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"The way this works is it travels down the esophagus in seconds, it's in the stomach within a few minutes, and then you get the drug", said Traverso, who worked with a team from the lab of MIT inventor Robert Langer and insulin maker Novo Nordisk.

The researchers drew their inspiration for the self-orientation feature from a tortoise known as the leopard tortoise. The pill is a variant of its shape made using computer modelling since it allows the capsule to reorient itself in the stomach.

Abramson stated, "What's important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected".

After the capsule has delivered its contents, the remains pass harmlessly through the digestive system.

Furthermore, no adverse effects from the capsule was found, which is made from biodegradable polymer and stainless steel components.

It's now a distinct possibility, say researchers who have developed a capsule that can deliver insulin once it reaches the stomach. The MIT team is now collaborating with Novo Nordisk for further study and product development to make it available in pharmacies at the soonest time.

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