The research in pigs has successfully delivered up to 5 milligrams of insulin, comparable to the amount a type 2 diabetic patients would need to inject.
"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", says Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor, a member of MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, and one of the senior authors of the study. Using a large animal model, the researchers were able to deliver enough insulin to lower blood glucose levels which were comparable to levels achieved by subcutaneous injection.
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 design of the pill has now been improved so that it has just one needle to avoid the pill being injected before it reaches the interior of the stomach. When the disk of sugar that makes up the capsule dissolves, a spring within releases a microneedle that it made of freeze-dried insulin. The needle's shaft is built from a biodegradable material that doesn't enter the stomach wall.
The needle contains a compressed spring which is held back with a disc of sugar. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall.
The stomach wall does not have pain receptors, so it is unlikely that this would cause any discomfort. 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.
The pill has a self-orienting feature that its designers borrowed from the shape of a tortoise.
A certain tortoise, the leopard tortoise from Africa, can right itself if flipped onto its back thanks to the steep curve of its shell.
The researchers made computer simulations of the pill inside the dynamic environment of a stomach to make sure the pill had the same self-righting feature.
"Also, if a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation", Alex Abramson, MIT graduate student and study first author, added.
According to the world health organization, the world suffers from diabetes 422 million people. They also note that further research will be required to determine the chronic effects of daily gastric injections. And for almost as long, researchers have pursued a way to orally administer insulin.
The team, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says this localized approach is more pleasant to take, easier to carry around and less expensive than traditional injections.
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