Daily insulin injections given to people with diabetes may disappear in the future thanks to a capsule that releases insulin directly into the stomach, a technique that has been tested so far in pigs, according to a report published by the "Science" journal.
About the size of a blueberry, the capsule contains a small needle made of compressed insulin, which is injected after the capsule reaches the stomach. Initial tests on animals shows insulin delivered in this manner controls blood sugar as well as a normal injection. Traverso and other co-authors are co-inventors on patent applications describing oral biologic drug delivery.
In 2014, Langer, visiting scientist Giovanni Traverso, and their colleagues developed a similar pill, coated with many tiny needles that could inject drugs into the lining of the stomach or small intestine.
Since the capsule has only one needle, it has to be able to orient itself to deliver the injection.
The tip of the needle is made of almost 100 percent compressed, freeze-dried insulin, using the same process used to form tablets of medicine. The shaft of the needle does not enter the stomach and is biodegradable.
The needle contains a compressed spring which is held back with a disc of sugar. When the tablet is swallowed, water within the abdomen dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the abdomen wall.
The stomach wall has no pain receptors, so the researchers believe that patients would not be able to feel the injection. In the case of the capsule, the domed shape ensures that the needle is continually reoriented towards the stomach wall.
The researchers hope that their research can lead to an easier way of delivering insulin. The insulin needle then injects insulin through the stomach lining; the insulin is then absorbed into the blood stream. In their study, it took about an hour for it to be fully released into the bloodstream. One key property of the new capsule is its ability to self-orientate, and its design is based on the leopard tortoise's shell with a high, steep dome to allow it to flip over. Computer models were used to experiment on different shapes for the capsule that allows it to adapt to its environment.
"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.
"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.
Insulin itself is a peptide, a short chain of amino acids, and the researchers say their device could be used to deliver other kinds of peptides too, such as immunosuppressant ones used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.
After the capsule has delivered its contents, the remains pass harmlessly through the digestive system. The capsule is built from a biodegradable polymer and stainless-steel components. The team are now working to further optimize the technology and manufacturing of the capsule.
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