PEOPLE with diabetes could say goodbye to their daily insulin injections, experts have discovered.
They have found a way of delivering the medication in a tablet – that’s swallowed instead.
And the new findings could pave the way for other drugs too.
Lots of medication, especially those made of proteins, can’t be taken orally because they’re broken down in the digestive system before they can take effect.
Insulin is a prime example, and as a result people with type 1 diabetes have to inject the life-saving drug, often several times a day.
End to insulin injections?
Now, scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, think they have found a way to end the need for regular injections.
They have designed a new drug capsule, that can carry insulin and other protein drugs, while protecting them from the harsh environment of the digestive system.
When the hi-tech capsule reaches the small intestine, it breaks down.
In doing so, it reveals tiny dissolvable micro-needles that are contained inside.
These then attach to the intestinal wall, and release the drug slowly – allowing it to seep into the bloodstream.
Professor Robert Langer, who led the team at MIT, said: “We are really pleased with the latest results of the new oral delivery device our lab members have developed.
“We look forward to hopefully seeing it help people with diabetes and others in the future.”
Tests in pigs showed that the capsule can deliver a similar a dose of insulin to an injection that works to immediately lower blood-glucose levels.
And the scientists said the micro-needles ensure the drug is absorbed quickly.
Tablets better than jabs
One of the study’s authors, Dr Giovanni Traverso, from MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said: “A lot of this work is motivated by the recognition that both patients and health care providers prefer the oral route of administration over the injectable one.”
Dr Traverso said an added bonus is the fact there are very few pain receptors in the intestines, meaning it’s likely to be a lot less painful.
The scientists designed a special coating for the capsule, allowing it to withstand the acidic environment of the stomach, and allowing it to reach the intestines in tact.
There, a higher pH triggers the capsule to break open and three folded arms inside the capsule spring open.
As the arms unfold, the force of their release allow the micro-needles to penetrate the topmost layer of the small intestine.
This then allows the needles to dissolve and release the drug.
Could work for vaccines too
Alex Abramson, one of the lead authors, said: “We performed numerous safety tests on animal and human tissue to ensure that the penetration event allowed for drug delivery without causing a full thickness perforation or any other serious adverse events.”
To reduce the risk of blocking the intestines, the team designed the arms so they would break apart after the micro-needle patches are applied.
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While the MIT team used insulin to demonstrate the new capsule, it could also be used to deliver other protein drugs such as hormones, enzymes or antibodies.
Dr Traverso added: “We can deliver insulin, but we see applications for many other therapeutics and possible vaccines.
“We’re working very closely with out collaborators to identify the next steps and applications where we can have the greatest impact.”