Insulin injections are a reality for millions of people living with diabetes. Unlike many other drugs, insulin, being a protein, cannot be easily put into the form of a conventional pill. Inhaled insulin (afrezza) is an option that is appropriate for some patients, but it hasn’t caught on very well. A team of researchers from MIT, Harvard, and Novo Nordisk, the world leader in insulin production, have now developed a pill that reliably attaches itself to the walls of the stomach to automatically inject the drug into the bloodstream.
The pill, which has already been tested on pigs, features a mechanism that makes sure that after swallowing, its injection needle is positioned against the wall of the stomach. The needle is protruded to hold onto the stomach and to access the blood vasculature within the stomach. Insulin is then pushed through to deliver therapy, all without the patient having to do more than simply swallow the pill.
Once the insulin is released, the amount of which can be customized for different patients, the pill detaches from the stomach and leaves the body along with the rest of the excrement. The pill consists of a biodegradable polymer and small steel parts, so there’s little fear of side effects from the pill itself. While it has been developed for insulin delivery, the pill may also end up being effective for delivering other protein-based drugs.
The researchers are now working on optimizing their pill and figuring out how to best manufacture it, in order to bring to reality something that for a very long time has been a holy grail of medicine.