End to insulin shots? Diabetes patients could take pill containing tiny needles

Insulin Shot

If you had a choice between injecting yourself with your medication or swallowing a capsule that contained your medication compressed into a needle which would you choose?

The scientists have shown that they can deliver enough insulin using this method to lower blood sugar levels to comparable levels achieved using insulin injections. Traverso and other co-authors are co-inventors on patent applications describing oral biologic drug delivery.

Several years ago, Traverso, Langer, and their colleagues developed a pill coated with many tiny needles that could be used to inject drugs into the lining of the stomach or the small intestine. The researchers also say the capsule could be used to deliver other protein drugs. That orientation will ensure the capsule delivers the needed insulin to a patient via a tiny, biodegradable needle ingeniously placed inside it. The needle is made in the same way an ordinary tablet is produced.

The needle contains a compressed spring which is held back with a disc of sugar. As the disk dissolves, the spring releases the needle and injects the drug into the stomach wall. The article further notes the stomach lining is almost nerve free, so patients will feel no pain from this delivery mechanism. They came up with a variant of this shape for their capsule so that no matter how the capsule lands in the stomach, it can orient itself so the needle is in contact with the lining of the stomach. And ever since, researchers have been attempting to find ways to deliver insulin orally without any success.

The researchers also looked at the stomach tissue where the insulin was injected and saw no signs of damage or abnormalities.

"Instead of liquid, we wanted to make it solid because you can fit a lot more in the pill in solid form than in liquid", said Dr Traverso.

In a news release, the MIT scientists said that the mechanism is inspired by the leopard tortoise, found in Africa.

The researchers' inspiration was the leopard tortoise that has a shell with a high, steep dome, allowing it to right itself if it rolls onto its back. After the capsule releases its contents, it moves harmlessly through the digestive system.

One pill can reportedly deliver as much as 300 micrograms of insulin in one shot. When the device was tested out on pigs, it took about an hour for all of the insulin to make its way into the blood and it didn't cause any adverse reactions. A team of investigators from Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women's Hospital, MIT, and Novo Nordisk has pioneered a new approach that brings closer to the clinic an oral formulation of insulin that can be swallowed rather than injected.

Other authors of this study include Alex Abramson, Ester Caffarel-Salvador, Minsoo Khang, David Dellal, David Silverstein, Yuan Gao, Morten Revsgaard Frederiksen, Andreas Vegge, František Hubálek, Jorrit J. Water, Anders V. Friderichsen, Johannes Fels, Rikke Kaae Kirk, Cody Cleveland, Joy Collins, Siddartha Tamang, Alison Hayward, Tomas Landh, Stephen T. Buckley, Niclas Roxhed, and Ulrik Rahbek.

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