Pea-Sized Pill Delivers Insulin "Like a Miniature Rocket Launcher"

Grant Boone
February 9, 2019

American scientists developed a drug capsule that can deliver oral doses of insulin and it might replace the injections that people with type 2 diabetes have to make each day. It contains a tiny needle made of freeze-dried compressed insulin, which is released and injected into the stomach's lining.

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.

They also demonstrated that the device can be adapted to "deliver other protein drugs".

The new pill's single tip is made of nearly 100 percent compressed, freeze-dried insulin. The shaft of the needle, which does not enter the stomach wall, is made from another biodegradable material.

Throughout the capsule, the needle is hooked up to a compressed spring that's held in place by a disk fabricated from sugar.

Once the pill reaches the stomach, water dissolves the disk, releasing the spring, and pushing out the to inject the stomach with the all-important insulin. There are no pain receptors in the stomach, so the injection shouldn't hurt, the researchers noted.

The research team also solved another inherent problem-getting the capsule and needle to orient itself appropriately so it comes in contact with the stomach lining. And for long time researchers have pursued a way to orally control insulin.

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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.

The team tested it on a pig first and administered microneedles loaded with 0.3mg human insulin combined with poly (ethylene) oxide (PEO).

So, the researchers borrowed "technology" from the leopard tortoise, found in Africa. This species is protected by a shell with a steep dome, which allows it to roll onto its back effortlessly.

The group created computer models to design a variant of the shape for their capsule, which allows it to orient itself even in the stomach.

"What's important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected", Abramson says. "Although we need to investigate further, this could be a potential way to deliver many medications such as immune-suppressants to treat rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases", said Traverso. Video credit: Diana Saville " If a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation", said Giovanni Traverso, also senior study author. After the capsule releases its contents, it moves harmlessly through the digestive system.

Diabetes occurs when there are too few beta cells in the pancreas to produce insulin or when they produce very little insulin, the hormone needed to get glucose from the bloodstream into cells. The capsule is built from a biodegradable polymer and stainless-steel components.

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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