Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections
09 February, 2019, 22:12
Scientists have developed a drug capsule that allows the oral delivery of insulin, meaning patients with diabetes that are reliant on insulin therapy could soon have an alternative to subcutaneous injections. It contains a tiny needle made of freeze-dried compressed insulin, which is released and injected into the stomach's lining.
Testing the new device on pigs shows that the delivery system functions as intended and insulin levels are almost identical to those attained by direct injection. The same capsule can also be adapted to deliver other protein drugs. It was developed to inject drugs into the lining of the stomach or small intestine.
Researchers took inspiration from the geometry of the leopard tortoise's shell to ensure the capsule would hit the stomach oriented in the right direction. Robert S. Langer, senior study author commented on the impact of the findings in a recent press release: "We are really hopeful that this new type of capsule could someday help diabetic patients and perhaps anyone who requires therapies that can now only be given by injection or infusion", The microneedle within the capsule is composed of compressed, freeze-dried insulin and a biodegradable material, and is created to always land in the stomach in the same orientation. The needle is made in the same way an ordinary tablet is produced. The needle is attached to a tiny compressed spring held in place by a disk of sugar, all within the capsule. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall. There are no pain receptors in the stomach, so the injection shouldn't hurt, the researchers noted.
To make sure the needle injects itself into the stomach, it is loaded into a steel spring surrounded by a barrier of sugar within the capsule. And ever since, researchers have been attempting to find ways to deliver insulin orally without any success.
Once the tip of the needle is injected into the stomach wall, the insulin dissolves at a rate that can be controlled by the researchers as the capsule is prepared. The researchers were inspired to design the SOMA for the leopard tortoise, an African species that is able to straighten if left on its back.
Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's hospital and a co-author of the study, said: "Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection". 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", said. "Also, if a person were to move around or the stomach was to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation".
After the capsule has delivered its contents, the remains pass harmlessly through the digestive system.
"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.
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