New pill device delivers insulin without injections
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.