A team of researchers from MIT developed an ingestible, blueberry-sized capsule that can deliver insulin orally. In animal models, the capsule lowered blood sugar levels and performed comparably with the traditional route of insulin delivery – injections.
The capsule features a small needle made of freeze-dried, compressed insulin. The needle is attached to a compressed spring, which is held in place by a sugar disk. Once the capsule reaches the stomach, the sugar disk dissolves and the needle injects into the stomach wall.
When the needle tip injects into the stomach wall, the insulin dissolves at a controllable rate. In animal testing published in Science, it took roughly an hour for the entire dose of insulin to be released into the pig’s bloodstream.
“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,” senior author Robert Langer told MIT News.
Inspired by the shell of a tortoise, the researchers designed the capsule with a self-orientation feature that allows the pill to orient the needle with the stomach lining no matter how it lands in the stomach.
“As soon as you take it, you want the system to self-right so that you can ensure contact with the tissue,” senior author Giovanni Traverso explained.
“What’s important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected,” graduate student Alex Abramson added. “Also, if a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation.”
According to MIT News, the team of researchers is working with Novo Nordisk (NYSE:NVO) to advance the capsule technology and work out the manufacturing process. Novo Nordisk, along with the NIH and Brigham & Women’s Hospital, helped to fund the project.
“Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection,” Traverso said. “The classic one is insulin, but there are many others.”