MIT scientists develop tortoise-shaped pill to deliver insulin

Leslie Hanson
February 9, 2019

According to MIT News, 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". When the capsule reaches the stomach, this sugar dissolves, releasing the spring and the needle in turn.

"Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection", said the paper's co-author Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor at Brigham and Women's Hospital and a visiting scientist at MIT. Nearly 30 million Americans have diabetes. The insulin needle takes about an hour to dissolve into the bloodstream.

The traditional method of treatment is an insulin injection, usually administered in the stomach. "Moreover, we recognize that the stomach is insensate to sharp pain and very tolerant of small, sharp objects". The researchers found no adverse effects from the capsule, which is made from biodegradable polymer and stainless steel components.

The team explains that the idea for this pill injection came from a species of leopard tortoise seen in Africa.

Both have a distinct high-dome shape that allows themselves to land upright if they are pushed over.

Lead author Alex Abramson, a Ph.D. student in the department of chemical engineering at MIT, said, "The system had to be self-orienting".

"The leopard tortoise also had a flat base, which makes it hard to push over, and it can roll over easily if it ends up on its back". The new device has only been tested in animals so far, and such findings don't always pan out in humans, but the scientists say the results look promising.

When the device reaches the stomach, the capsule reorients itself and injects the insulin into the lining of the stomach. To accomplish this, they loaded the insulin needle onto a compressed spring that's held in place by a sugar disk.

Lastly, the team needed to figure out what to make the small needle out of. Robert S. Langer, senior study author commented on the impact of the findings in a recent press release: "We are really hopeful that this new type of capsule could someday help diabetic patients and perhaps anyone who requires therapies that can now only be given by injection or infusion", The microneedle within the capsule is composed of compressed, freeze-dried insulin and a biodegradable material, and is created to always land in the stomach in the same orientation. "Although we need to investigate further, this could be a potential way to deliver many medications such as immune-suppressants to treat rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel diseases", said Traverso.

In tests conducted on animals, the pill worked to deliver insulin to lower blood sugar levels as well as a typical external injection. This could be life-changing for the 415 million people with diabetes worldwide, many of whom must inject insulin at least once daily to manage their condition.

After the capsule releases its contents, it can pass harmlessly through the digestive system.

The abdomen wall has no ache receptors, so the researchers imagine that sufferers wouldn't have the ability to feel the injection.

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