MIT scientists develop a drug capsule that can deliver oral insulin

Maricruz Casares
Febrero 8, 2019

In tests in animals, the researchers showed that they could deliver enough insulin to lower blood sugar to levels comparable to those produced by injections given through skin. They also demonstrated that the device can be adapted to deliver other protein drugs.

Scientists at MIT have developed a new capsule that they say is capable of delivering insulin orally.

Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School-affiliated Brigham and Women's hospital and a co-author of the study, said: "Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection". The material itself is nearly completely made from compressed, freeze-dried insulin. The shaft of the needle, which does not enter the stomach wall, is made from another biodegradable material.

The needle is spring-loaded - it is attached to a tiny compressed spring that's held in place by sugar.

Once it dissolves, the insulin needle is injected into the stomach lining. There are no pain receptors in the stomach, so the injection shouldn't hurt, the researchers noted. Researchers crafted a miniature capsule with a similar shape and a weighted bottom, so that once it reaches the stomach it automatically rolls in the right direction to latch on, Traverso explained.

So, the researchers borrowed "technology" from the leopard tortoise, found in Africa. 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. The researchers used computer modeling to come up with a variant of this shape for their capsule, which allows it to reorient itself even in the dynamic environment of the stomach.

"What's important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected", Abramson says.

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Once the tip of the needle is injected into the stomach wall, the insulin dissolves at a rate that can be controlled by the researchers as the capsule is prepared. But if it pans out, it might offer a work-around to make not just insulin but a variety of usually injected medicines a little easier to take.

When tested in pigs, the device worked consistently and was able to deliver equivalent doses of insulin to those required by someone with diabetes.

The metal spring and rest of the capsule passed through the digestive system, without seeming to cause any problems.

The researchers are now working on improving their capsule and determining how best to manufacture it.

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.

The research was funded by Novo Nordisk, the National Institutes of Health, a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship, Brigham and Women's Hospital, a Viking Olaf Bjork Research Scholarship, and the MIT Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program.

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