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Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections

09 February 2019

Tests in pigs have shown the device is able to successfully deliver insulin in the same quantities that people with type 2 diabetes would typically take.

With funding and in collaboration with scientists from Novo Nordisk, the team has developed an ingestible microneedle that can inject insulin into the stomach lining in a large animal model. The pill could also be adapted to deliver other protein drugs.

Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections
Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections

Other authors of the study had, several years ago, developed a pill coated with many tiny needles that could be used to inject drugs into the stomach's lining or the small intestine. The new capsule's tip is made of absolutely compressed and freeze-drilled insulin and its shaft is biodegradable too.

The article adds that a tiny coiled spring held in a ready position by a disk made of sugar, compresses the needle once stomach fluids dissolve the sugar disk. The idea is that, once swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar, releasing the spring, and injecting the needle into the stomach wall. The stomach wall does not have pain receptors, so it's unlikely patients would feel the injection. In the case of the capsule, the domed shape ensures that the needle is continually reoriented towards the stomach wall. And for almost as long, researchers have pursued a way to orally administer insulin. The team found a marked decrease in blood glucose levels, with similar active drug levels in the blood as when insulin was injected subcutaneously in five controls. The researchers were inspired to design the SOMA for the leopard tortoise, an African species that is able to straighten if left on its back. U.S. scientist based the pill's design on the African leopard tortoise which has a shell with a high, steep dome, allowing it to right itself if it rolls onto its back.

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"Instead of liquid, we wanted to make it solid because you can fit a lot more in the pill in solid form than in liquid", said Dr Traverso.

The researchers made computer simulations of the pill inside the dynamic environment of a stomach to make sure the pill had the same self-righting feature.

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"What's important is that we have the needle in contact with the tissue when it is injected", Abramson says. Patients with T1D produce very little or no insulin meaning they require insulin to be administered every day to allow them to regulate the levels of glucose in their bloodstream. Video credit: Diana Saville " If a person were to move around or the stomach were to growl, the device would not move from its preferred orientation", said Giovanni Traverso, also senior study author. "Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection", Traverso says. After the capsule releases its contents, it moves harmlessly through the digestive system.

This work was funded in part by a Novo Nordisk grant, NIH Grant No. EB-000244, an NSF GRFP fellowship, the Division of Gastroenterology at Brigham and Woman's Hospital, the Viking Olaf Björk scholarship trust, and the MIT UROP program.

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Pill inspired by leopard tortoise could replace diabetic injections