Scientists have discovered how to conceal the shot inside a pill the size of a pea-making a swallowable device that is based on the tortoise shell. It can inject drugs like insulin into the stomach.
Patients typically prefer oral treatments and adhere to it better. However, many of the compounds like insulin to combat diabetes aren’t able to endure the rigors of your digestive tract.
The latest invention, announced Thursday by a Massachusetts institute of Technology-led research team has been evaluated only in animals to date. However, if it proves successful it could provide an alternate method to make insulin, but other typically injection drugs less difficult to consume.
“It’s like a miniaturized rocket launcher” for insulin, according to Willem Mulder of Mount Sinai’s Translational and Molecular Imaging Institute and who was not part of the latest research.
Researchers have tried for decades to discover oral insulin, which could to replace some or all of the shots taken daily by patients with diabetes need. The research is focused on ways to shield insulin from breakdown in the digestive tract and assist in its absorbed by the intestine to the bloodstream. At present, none of them have made it to the market, though several closely-watched candidates are being evaluated.
Ingestion of a drug could avoid the risks of the travel by allowing insulin to soak into the walls in the stomach according to the doctor. Giovanni Traverso, a gastroenterologist at Boston’s Brigham & Women’s Hospital and the lead author for the research.
“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 was part of an team in the laboratory that was run by MIT the inventor Robert Langer and insulin maker Novo Nordisk.
The first issue is how to ensure that the device is in a place exactly in the correct spot regardless of how someone is moving about. The researchers took inspiration from nature for inspiration.
A specific tortoise, the leopard tortoise of Africa is able to right itself when it is flipped over due to the steep curvature in its shell. Researchers created a miniature capsule that has a similar design and a bottom that is weighted and a weighted top, so that once it gets to the stomach, it rolls automatically in the correct direction to secure itself, Traverso explained.
The team then designed an injector that is a miniature version of an injection device, but made of dried insulin that is compressed into sharp points. To power it, the researchers connected a tiny spring an encased sugar disk.
Stomach acid slowly dissolves sugar, until the spring pops sending the insulin through the stomach wall.
In pigs, the ingestion injection decreased blood sugar levels to levels that were comparable to shots that are standard in the study, which was published on this week in Science.
Once the insulin had been taken in, the capsule composed of stainless steel and biodegradable material, floated off and was ejected.
“It’s a very clever idea, that is meant to solve a very long-standing problem,” said University of Pittsburgh chemical engineering chair Steven Little, who also did not participate in the research. Since the device is able to pass throughthe body “the only thing administered to the body is this little injector.”
One problem: It functions with a full stomach, and nothing out of obstruction to the device being able to latch on. Traverso stated that it could someday substitute morning insulin shots, but no post-meal dosages.
If piercing the stomach wall can be a bit alarming, Traverso said gastroenterologists have been using larger needles for years to inject medicines during specific gastric procedures. Patients have a good experience. The stomach muscles are thick enough that there is no need to worry about micro-injections cutting completely through as well as the animal studies showed no adverse negative effects. However, Traverso stated that further research is required to understand how the stomach reacts to regular micro-injections for a number of months.
More animal research is in the works as well as Traverso believes that human testing could be completed within three years.