Faculty Editor: Professor Jeffrey DaCosta


An MIT research team holds plans for a potential drug capsule that could replace injection-based insulin treatment for those with type 1 diabetes. Type 1 diabetes is usually diagnosed early on and results from insufficient production of insulin by the pancreas. Insulin shots are used to help those with Type 1 manage their disease, as the insulin injected directly enters the bloodstream and allows the cells of your body to begin taking up the needed amounts of sugar. This developed drug capsule could deliver oral doses of insulin everyday, and as shown in animal testing, would provide enough insulin to lower blood sugar levels similar to that seen in skin injections (I). The team’s research was published in February of this year, and their hope is that an oral form of the drug can help not only those suffering from diabetes, but also  anyone who requires therapies that can only be given by infusion or injection. 

Under the direction of Giovanni Traverso (MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital) and collaborators from academia (MIT, KTH Royal Institute of Technology) and industry (Novo Nordisk), promising results have been found in animal testing of this oral drug. They believe it is the design of the pill that has resulted in such positive results. About the size of a blueberry, the pill contains a single needle,the tip being almost 100% compressed insulin, and the rest is made of some biodegradable material. The needle lies within the capsule, and once the pill is degraded in the stomach, the sugar disk that holds the needle and its compressed spring is released, injecting itself into the stomach wall. With no pain receptors in the wall, patients should not feel said injection, and their testing shows that  the entirety of the insulin should be delivered into the bloodstream within an hour (I). 

The “self-orienting” design of the pill, also contributes to the effectiveness of this oral treatment. Regardless of where in the stomach the pill lands, researchers have designed the capsule so that the needle will always be re-oriented with the lining of the stomach. Their system’s design draws from the self-orientation feature of the leopard tortoise in Africa (I). Because of the steep, dome shape of its shell, the tortoise can more easily right itself up, if fallen on to its back. Like this African tortoise, engineers created a variant shape in their capsule that allowed it to adapt to the stomach’s environment and navigate itself to the stomach wall regardless of where it lands in the stomach upon ingest. The biodegradable nature of the capsule also allows it to pass with no adverse effects through the digestive system of the patient. 

MIT’s study has garnered the attention of medical professionals, scientists, and pharmaceutical professionals outside of this research team and created a sense of hope. Maria Jose Alonso, a professor of biopharmaceuticals and pharmaceutical technology at the University of Santiago de Compostela in Spain, made the statement that MIT’s design and drug is “by far the most realistic and impactful breakthrough technology disclosed until now for oral peptide delivery” (I), The research team continues to work with Novo Nordisk in manufacturing technologies in the aim that this drug could be used for the delivery of many protein drugs, such as immunosuppressants to target DNA and RNA (I). 


References:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2019, February 7). New pill can deliver insulin through the stomach. ScienceDaily. Retrieved April 7, 2019 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/02/190207142206.htm

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