Tortoise-Inspired Capsules Deliver Insulin To The Stomach Without Injections

Felice Frankel  MIT News

Felice Frankel MIT News

In pigs, the ingestible injection lowered blood sugar to levels comparable to standard shots, according to the study published Thursday in the journal science. But Traverso said that people with type 2 diabetes often delay beginning treatment with insulin because of the discomfort and stigma attached to insulin injections.

"So let's say a person was leaning over when the device was about to insert".

The capsule contains a tiny needle that is made nearly completely of freeze-dried insulin, and a spring - all held in place by a disc of sugar. The capsule is about the size of a blueberry.

When the device reaches the stomach, the capsule reorients itself and injects the insulin into the lining of the stomach.

Lead author Alex Abramson, a Ph.D. student in the department of chemical engineering at MIT, said, "The system had to be self-orienting. The stomach is a large space and there's no guarantee where it will land".

The researchers drew their inspiration for the self-orientation feature from a tortoise known as the leopard tortoise.

A leopard tortoise showing off its steep, high-rising shell.

The researchers also had to make sure the capsule had a chance to right itself before the injection occurred.

Next, they needed a trigger for the needle, which is controlled by a disc made of sugar that holds in place a spring. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall.

The stomach wall has no pain receptors, so the researchers believe that patients would not be able to feel the injection.

Once the contents from the capsule are released, it passes through the digestive system without any side effects.

In tests in pigs, the researchers showed that they could successfully deliver up to 300 micrograms of insulin.

The researchers also looked at the stomach tissue where the insulin was injected and saw no signs of damage or abnormalities.

Traverso said the researchers will continue the animal experiments and are hoping to test the insulin capsule in humans in approximately three years.

Insulin itself is a peptide, a short chain of amino acids, and the researchers say their device could be used to deliver other kinds of peptides too, such as immunosuppressant ones used to treat rheumatoid arthritis and inflammatory bowel disease.

Endocrinologist Dr. Minisha Sood is from Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, and was not part of the study.

A caveat: This invention is still at the proof of concept stage.

"Making oral insulin available will dramatically improve the options for people with diabetes - it would be life-changing", Sood explained. Having to inject insulin is one of the main reasons for this delay, she said.

"The way this works is it travels down the oesophagus in seconds, it's in the stomach within a few minutes, and then you get the drug", said Traverso, who worked with a team from the lab of MIT inventor Robert Langer and insulin maker Novo Nordisk.

The study was published February 7 in the journal Science.

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