Researchers in the US at the Massachusetts Institute of technology have developed an “insulin pill”. This 3 centimetre capsule could carry a similar amount of insulin in an injection and deliver it to the intestines to be taken up into the blood. The capsule works by releasing insulin into the bloodstream via the gut when swallowed. Eventually this development could one day allow people with type 1 diabetes to avoid injecting insulin.
Although many medicines can be taken in pill form, insulin is a protein and quickly breaks down when coming into contact with gastric acid (stomach acid) before it can be used by the body. This makes it challenging to develop a capsule that can survive the harsh acidic environment of the stomach while still only releasing the insulin once it gets to the intestine.
This capsule is designed with an enteric coating which is resistant to gastric acid. As a result, the capsule can withstand the acid but is triggered to break open once it reaches the less acidic environment of the small intestine.
When the capsule opens, it releases three folded arms coated with tiny 1 millimetre long needles. These needles penetrate the top layer of the walls of the small intestine and dissolve, releasing the insulin into the blood.
However, there is still work to be done, one important hurdle the researchers still need to overcome is the timing of the insulin release. The capsule’s arrival in the intestines depends on how quickly a person digests their food therefore this could make dosing for meals a challenge.
By studying how long the pills takes to open in the intestine researchers could then adapt how long the pill takes to deliver the insulin to be used by the body.
Professor Robert Langer, David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and one of the authors of the research, said: “we are really pleased with the latest results of the new oral delivery device our lab members have developed with our collaborators, and we look forward to hopefully seeing it help people with diabetes and others in the future.
We await the next stages of this particular research with interest.