MIT scientists develop tortoise-shaped pill to deliver insulin

Insulin Shot

Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections

Vaccinations, insulin injections, or intravenous drips could one day be replaced by smart pills that inject the medicine directly into your stomach.

To try to meet this challenge, the researchers developed a capsule that contains a small needle that's made of compressed insulin.

That's why insulin - a hormone that helps regulate blood sugar - has to be delivered by injection. 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. The shaft of the needle, which doesn't enter the abdomen wall, is produced from one other biodegradable materials.

The article adds that a tiny coiled spring held in a ready position by a disk made of sugar, compresses the needle once stomach fluids dissolve the sugar disk. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall. There are no pain receptors in the stomach, so the injection shouldn't hurt, the researchers noted. The researchers changed the new capsule so it has just one needle so that the drugs aren't injected into the stomach's insides and broken down by acids before they could have any effect. And for almost as long, researchers have pursued a way to orally administer insulin. The small capsule contains a needle of compressed insulin that injects after the capsule reaches the stomach.

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In a news release, the MIT scientists said that the mechanism is inspired by the leopard tortoise, found in Africa. The team also showed it could be modified to deliver other types of drugs. The team looked to a African leopard tortoise, who can flip itself over if stuck on it's back, for design inspiration. 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", said. Video credit: Diana Saville " If a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation", said Giovanni Traverso, also senior study author. The capsule is built from a biodegradable polymer and stainless-steel components. After the capsule releases its contents, it moves harmlessly through the digestive system. When the device was tested out on pigs, it took about an hour for all of the insulin to make its way into the blood and it didn't cause any adverse reactions.

This work was funded in part by a Novo Nordisk grant, NIH Grant No. EB-000244, an NSF GRFP fellowship, the Division of Gastroenterology at Brigham and Woman's Hospital, the Viking Olaf Björk scholarship trust, and the MIT UROP program.

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