Researchers at MIT have developed a capsule, the size of blueberry, that could be used to deliver oral doses of insulin. The capsule contains a tiny needle made entirely of compressed insulin, so once it reaches the stomach it pops out and injects insulin into the top layers of stomach tissue. After delivering the drug, the capsule safely passes through the digestive system and is eventually eliminated.
The test pill is named self-orienting millimeter-scale applicator (SOMA), and as the name suggests it can orient itself to be in contact with the lining of the stomach. The design of the capsule was inspired by the self-orientation feature of tortoise known as the leopard tortoise.
The tortoise, native to Africa, has unique hemispherical shell which rights itself if it rolls onto its back. Using computer modeling, the team then came up with a variant of this shape for the capsule which allows it to self right from any orientation even in the composite structure of the stomach.
The device has been successfully tested in pigs and rats. It has been shown to deliver up to 305 micrograms of insulin, which is equivalent to the dose that a patient living with type 1 diabetes would need to inject. Human trial begins in three years.
“Our motivation is to make it easier for patients to take medication, particularly medications that require an injection,” explained Giovanni Traverso, the first author of the paper. “The classic one is insulin, but there are many others.”