Type 1 diabetics know that management of their condition can literally be prickly. Their illness requires daily insulin shots, which are typically administered via injections. But as it turns out, that could soon be a thing of the past.

A little backgrounder on type 1 diabetes: people who have this condition don't produce enough insulin, a hormone that helps break down glucose into energy. So, they have to inject it manually, in some cases multiple times day.

A Future Without Insulin Injections

Most of the methods involve using a needle and a syringe, but there has been growing research globally aiming to develop pills that can deliver insulin sans any injection. These studies are ongoing, but if any are found to be efficient and safe, they could radically change the lifestyle of some 400 million people around the world dealing with the disease. So far, none of these studies have been able to output a commercially viable solution for non-invasive insulin intake, but that's the ultimate goal.

"Injections are invasive, painful, and because of that there is a significant non-compliance among the [type 1] patients that are using insulin," says Harvard University's Samir Mitragotri, who coauthored the study.

The Challenges Of Non-Invasive Insulin Intake

The biggest challenge of non-invasive insulin administration is the stomach, since insulin can be degraded by acids and enzymes before it's used in the body, explains Mitragotri.

As such, the researchers took a different approach. They first combined choline and geranic acid together and put it inside capsules made of material that can withstand stomach acid, called an enterically coated capsule. "Enterically coated" means it can be dissolved the small intestine.

They gave these capsules to six nondiabetic mice.

The researchers found that their blood sugar levels fell rapidly, dropping to about 38 percent in the first two hours, then 45 percent after 10 hours.

The findings were published June 25 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences journal.

The pills in question won't be available commercially anytime soon, however. They have only been tested on small animals thus far, and it could be several years before clinical trials begin. The next step is to perform more long-term safety studies in larger animals. Hopefully those yield similarly encouraging results. If things pan out well, a future where insulin injections aren't necessary may finally be possible.

"These studies will provide the necessary information to support human clinical testing, which we hope will begin in three to five years," says Mitragotri.

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