New Drug Capsule Could Deliver Insulin And Replace Injections

  • Researchers develop a new pill to deliver oral doses of insulin. 
  • It may replace insulin injections that are used for type 1 diabetes. 
  • In tests in pigs, they successfully delivered up to 5 milligrams of insulin without any adverse effects. 

According to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention, more than 29 million people in the United States have diabetes and approximately 7 million people don’t know it. More than 86 million adults (1/3 of American adults) have prediabetes.

Diabetes causes high levels of blood sugar which in turn leads to serious complications such as heart and kidney disease along with many other ailments. For numerous patients, injecting insulin several times a day is the only solution to control blood glucose levels.

Daily injections, however, could be challenging and extremely discomforting for some people. They also produce biohazardous needle waste.

Now, researchers at MIT have come up with a pill that can be used to deliver oral doses of insulin. It has the potential to replace insulin injections that are used for type 1 diabetes.

How These Capsules Work?

The pill is nearly the size of a grape, containing a tiny needle made of compressed insulin. Once the capsule reaches the stomach, insulin is injected into the lining of the stomach.

The needle’s tip is made of compressed, freeze-dried insulin and its shaft (doesn’t enter the wall of the stomach) is made of another biodegradable compound. The needle is connected with a spring that is compressed by a sugar disk.

Courtesy of researchers 

Once the pill is swallowed, stomach water dissolves the sugar disk and releases the spring. As a result, the needle is injected into the stomach wall. And since stomach wall doesn’t have pain receptors, patients wouldn’t feel any pain.

Reference: ScienceMag | doi: 10.1126/science.aau2277 | MIT 

The capsule is designed in a way that the needle always comes in contact with the stomach lining. It doesn’t matter if the stomach growls or if the patient moves around, the pill will not move from its target orientation.

The researchers performed experiments on pigs, and it took approximately one hour for the entire insulin to be delivered into the bloodstream. They demonstrated that they could deliver up to 5 milligrams of insulin. Also, it’s possible to control (at the time of preparing capsule) how fast insulin dissolves within the body.

Credit: Felice Frankel

After releasing its drug, the pill can pass through the digestive system, without causing any adverse side effects. In this experiment, researchers performed endoscopies of pigs and found no signs of abnormalities or tissue damage from the stomach injections.

Read: New Medical Equipment Uses Magnetic Field To Accelerate Muscle Recover

What’s Next?

The team plans to further optimize this new technique called self-orienting millimeter-scale applicator (SOMA). It could be used to deliver other protein drugs that usually have to be injected. Furthermore, it may help in nucleic acid-based therapies.

Written by
Varun Kumar

Varun Kumar is a professional science and technology journalist and a big fan of AI, machines, and space exploration. He received a Master's degree in computer science from Indraprastha University. To find out about his latest projects, feel free to directly email him at [email protected] 

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