End to insulin shots? Diabetes patients could take pill containing tiny needles

08 Février, 2019, 21:23 | Auteur: Yves Courtet
  • Some examples of the pills or “self-orienting millimeter-scale actuators.”

One of the most common diseases in the world is diabetes and some people suffering from the condition are insulin dependent. 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. They also demonstrated that the device can be adapted to deliver other protein drugs.

The team, from Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says this localized approach is more pleasant to take, easier to carry around and less expensive than traditional injections.

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

Now, researchers at MIT have developed just that - so far, it's only been trialed in animals, but it's certainly an exciting start.

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. But Traverso said more research is needed to see how the stomach handles daily micro-injections over many months.

Next the team designed a micro-injector, like a needle only made of dried insulin compressed into a sharp point.

Once the pill reaches the stomach, water dissolves the disk, releasing the spring, and pushing out the to inject the stomach with the all-important insulin. So, they turned to an unlikely animal for inspiration: the leopard tortoise.

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The shape of the capsule is inspired by the leopard tortoise, found in Africa, which has a steep, domed shell that allows it to right itself if it rolls onto its back. 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.

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 insulin needle takes about an hour to dissolve into the bloodstream.

The researchers describe the capsule as "about the size of a pea" and made from biodegradable polymer and bits of stainless steel. In tests in pigs, the researchers said they were able to deliver five milligrams of insulin - comparable to the amount that a patient with type 2 diabetes would need to inject.

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

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

"Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection", Traverso says.

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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