“Edible Injection” Developed by MIT-Led Researchers

Mechanical pills that can be swallowed are capable of injecting insulin from inside the stomach (Photo by Felice Frankel)

A mechanical pill taken orally may enhance injection-based medicine delivery into the human body.

A Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT)-led research team developed a pill that injects insulin directly from inside the stomach. Patients may soon use this pill instead of injecting themselves daily with insulin.

Type 2 diabetes is a disease wherein the body cannot effectively manage the excess amount of glucose in the blood. The condition occurs either because of low insulin production by the pancreas or compromised insulin use by the body. Most people with type 2 diabetes inject themselves daily with insulin to stabilize their blood glucose concentration.

However, people who require regular insulin injections experience several issues. Injections may cause physical discomfort and unnecessary attention. In addition, these injections require refrigeration of insulin and produce biowaste from used needles. It appears that a better alternative is to replace hand-operated injections with a pill that is just as effective.

The blueberry-sized pill is made of biodegradable polymer with stainless steel components. Once the pill reaches the stomach, insulin is injected through the stomach wall using a needle tipped with compressed freeze-dried insulin. A different biodegradable material is used as the needle’s shaft.

The needle is operated by a steel spring, which is retained at a compressed position by a sugar-based locking mechanism. The needle is launched when water in the stomach dissolves the sugar. Insulin is released into the blood at a controlled rate, which is set during the preparation of the pill.

To ensure that the needle would penetrate the stomach wall, the shape of the pill was designed using biomimicry of the leopard tortoise. The unique configuration of the tortoise’s shell allows it to reorient itself whenever it is rolled on its back.  Similarly, the pill retains its effective position even as the patient moves or experiences movements in the stomach.

The research team conducted tests on pigs with success. Using the pill, they were able to inject up to 5 milligrams of insulin– a dosage similar to those required by patients with type 2 diabetes.

The application of this medicine-delivery system to other diseases is promising. In the very near future, the pill may be used to administer drugs that are normally injected through the skin or are not easily absorbed through the digestive system.

Watch the YouTube video below to learn more about this technology.

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John is a mechanical and environmental engineer who is fascinated with current and future tech. To this day, he still can't get over how amazing touchscreens and airplanes are.