Diabetes Pill Releases Insulin In The Gut Without Painful Injections

MIT scientists develop a drug capsule that can deliver oral insulin

People who need daily injections such as those with Type 1 diabetes would be happy to know that researchers at the MIT have come up with a specially devised pill that could deliver injections when swallowed. The pill could also be adapted to deliver other protein drugs.

Some years in the past, a bunch of MIT colleagues developed a pill that was coated with tiny needles that might be used to inject medication into the liner of the abdomen or the small gut. The tip of the needle is built of nearly 100 percent compressed, freeze-dried insulin. The needle is made in the same way an ordinary tablet is produced. In the new design, a disk of sugar holds a compressed spring in place that is attached to the needle. Once the capsule enters the stomach, the sugar is dissolved by the stomach's water content, the spring is released and the needle is injected into the stomach wall.

There are no pain receptors in the organ's lining, so patients shouldn't feel a thing. The researchers changed the new capsule so it has just one needle so that the drugs aren't injected into the stomach's insides and broken down by acids before they could have any effect.

The researchers hope that their research can lead to an easier way of delivering insulin.

One problem scientist still face before bringing tiny injector to the masses: it now works best on an empty stomach, but they're still working on it.

Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital, Harvard Medical School, and a visiting scientist in MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering, where he is starting as a faculty member in 2019, is also a senior author of the study.

Scientists at the Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston designed this pill, which consists of a biodegradable capsule the size of a chickpea containing an insulin microneedle, according to a press release from the U.S. center. The leopard tortoise shell has a high, steep dome, which helps it roll back to its feet if it finds itself on its back.

The pill has not yet been tested in humans, but researchers said it did not injure the pig test subjects and successfully delivered up to 5 milligrams of insulin, a similar amount that people with type 2 diabetes would use. Computer models were used to experiment on different shapes for the capsule that allows it to adapt to its environment.

"What's important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected", Abramson says. "Also, if a person were to move around or the stomach was to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation". The capsule is built from a biodegradable polymer and stainless-steel components.

"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 team is working with pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk to develop the technology and optimise the manufacturing process for the capsules.

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