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Oral doses of insulin could be a reality, thanks to new super pill

Researchers believe they’ve made a breakthrough with a new capsule that could change the nature of injectable medication.

Scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed an experimental pill designed to carry insulin or other protein drugs that cannot be taken orally, as they are often broken down in the gastrointestinal tract before they take effect.

The new pill is said to be strong enough to survive stomach acid, remaining intact before it reaches the small intestine. There, it breaks down to reveal dissolvable microneedles that attach to the intestinal wall and release the drug.

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This image details the swallowable components of the pill. Picture: Felice Frankel via AP
media_cameraThis image details the swallowable components of the pill. Picture: Felice Frankel via AP

“We are really pleased with the latest results of the new oral delivery device our lab members have developed with our collaborators, and we look forward to hopefully seeing it help people with diabetes and others in the future,” said Robert Langer, a senior author of the paper and a professor at MIT.

According to the study, researchers were able to prove that this 30mm capsule could load a comparable amount of insulin to that of an injection, enabling fast uptake into the bloodstream.

To reduce the risk of blockage in the intestine, the researchers designed the arms so that they would break apart after the microneedle patches are applied, allowing safe excretion.
During clinical trials, the pill’s biodegradable materials dissolved and were cleared from the intestine within one to two days.

Some diabetics are forced to inject daily — or even multiple times a day — in order to regulate blood sugar levels. Picture: Supplied.
media_cameraSome diabetics are forced to inject daily — or even multiple times a day — in order to regulate blood sugar levels. Picture: Supplied.

The study’s second senior author, MIT Assistant Professor Giovanni Traverso, also noted the lack of pain receptors in this part of the body, enabling pain-free microinjections in the small intestine for delivery of drugs like insulin.

“We can deliver insulin, but we see applications for many other therapeutics and possibly vaccines,” Dr Traverso said in an MIT news release. “We’re working very closely with our collaborators to identify the next steps and applications where we can have the greatest impact.”

Originally published as Tiny pill could replace insulin shots


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