Patients with type 1 diabetes can possibly replace daily injections with an oral insulin pill that will deliver the drug straight to the gut.

An MIT-led team of researchers developed a capsule about the size of a blueberry, which contains a small needle made out of compressed insulin. Results of the animal tests showed that the levels of insulin delivered to lower blood sugar are comparable to those administered through injections.

Painless Injection

Currently, diabetic patients receive insulin only through injection or infusion. The researchers said that this method can be adapted to administer other protein drugs.

"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," said Robert Langer, senior author of the study and a professor at the MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

In 2014, Langer and his colleagues developed a pill with tiny needles that will inject the drug into the stomach lining. The design was meant to prevent the drug from entering the gut, which could affect its efficacy.

"The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration," said Giovanni Traverso, a visiting faculty at MIT's Department of Mechanical Engineering.

In the new design, a disk of sugar holds a compressed spring in place that is attached to the needle. The sugar disk eventually dissolves upon reaching the water in the stomach. As the disk dissolves, the spring releases the needle and injects the drug into the stomach wall.

The researchers added that the patient will not feel a tinge of the injection since the stomach lining has no pain receptors.

Inspired By Tortoise

Langer's team mimicked the self-orientation feature of the leopard tortoise in Africa, which is capable of going back to its original form if it rolls onto its back. Computer models were used to experiment on different shapes for the capsule that allows it to adapt to its environment.

The insulin will take about an hour before it is fully absorbed in the bloodstream. The study was published Feb. 7 in the journal Science.

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