New pill de­vice de­liv­ers in­sulin with­out in­jec­tions

San Francisco Chronicle Late Edition - - FROM THE COVER - By Lau­ran Neer­gaard Lau­ran Neer­gaard is an As­so­ci­ated Press writer.

WASHINGTON — Sci­en­tists have fig­ured out how to hide a shot in­side a pea-sized pill — cre­at­ing a swal­low­able gad­get, in­spired by a tor­toise shell, that can in­ject medicines like in­sulin from in­side the stom­ach.

Pa­tients usu­ally pre­fer oral treat­ment, and com­ply with it bet­ter, but many com­pounds, in­clud­ing in­sulin for di­a­betes, can’t sur­vive the harsh trip through the di­ges­tive sys­tem.

The new in­ven­tion, re­ported last week by a Mas­sachusetts In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy-led re­search team, has been tested so far only in an­i­mals. But if it pans out, it may of­fer a work­around to make not just in­sulin but a va­ri­ety of usu­ally in­jected medicines eas­ier to take.

“It’s like a minia­tur­ized rocket launcher” for in­sulin, said Willem Mulder of Mount Si­nai’s Trans­la­tional and Molec­u­lar Imag­ing In­sti­tute, who wasn’t in­volved in the re­search.

Sci­en­tists have spent decades try­ing to de­velop oral in­sulin and re­place at least some of the daily shots that many peo­ple with di­a­betes re­quire. At­tempts in­clude ways to pro­tect in­sulin from di­ges­tive break­down and then help it be ab­sorbed through the in­tes­tine into the blood­stream. So far none has reached the mar­ket, although some closely watched can­di­dates are be­ing tested.

An in­gestible in­jec­tion could by­pass the haz­ards of that jour­ney — let­ting in­sulin ab­sorb through the wall of the stom­ach, said Dr. Gio­vanni Traverso, a gas­troen­terol­o­gist at Bos­ton’s Brigham & Women’s Hospi­tal and a se­nior au­thor of the study.

The first chal­lenge: How to make sure the de­vice lands where it can poke into the right spot. Re­searchers looked to na­ture for ideas.

A cer­tain tor­toise, the leop­ard tor­toise from Africa, can right it­self if flipped onto its back thanks to the steep curve of its shell. Re­searchers crafted a minia­ture cap­sule with a sim­i­lar shape, so that once it reaches the stom­ach it au­to­mat­i­cally rolls in the right di­rec­tion to latch on, Traverso said.

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