Scientists Develop New Way To Administer Insulin

The researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), working with scientists from Danish pharmaceutical company Novo Nordisk, have developed a new way to administer insulin or other protein drugs that cannot be taken orally. They have developed a new oral capsule that can carry the drugs and protect them from the harsh environment of the digestive tract. In tests, the researchers showed that their capsule could load a comparable amount of insulin to that of an injection.

Many drugs, especially those made of proteins, cannot be taken orally because they are broken down in the digestive tract before they can take effect. Insulin is one of these. This is why many patients with diabetes have to inject insulin daily or even more frequently.

The new oral capsule created by the team travels to the small intestine before breaking down, bypassing the acidic environment of the stomach. The capsule breaks open in the small intestine as the pH is higher, releasing three folded arms containing patches of one-millimeter-long needles. The needles penetrate just the topmost layer of the small intestine tissue, then dissolve and release the drug.

Robert Langer, the David H. Koch Institute Professor at MIT and a member of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Giovanni Traverso, an assistant professor in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, are the senior authors of the study. The lead authors of the paper are MIT PhD recipient Alex Abramson and former MIT postdoc Ester Caffarel-Salvador.

Other authors of the paper include Vance Soares, Daniel Minahan, Ryan Yu Tian, Xiaoya Lu, David Dellal, Yuan Gao, Soyoung Kim, Jacob Wainer, Joy Collins, Siddartha Tamang, Alison Hayward, Tadayuki Yoshitake, Hsiang-Chieh Lee, James Fujimoto, Johannes Fels, Morten Revsgaard Frederiksen, Ulrik Rahbek, and Niclas Roxhed. The research was funded by Novo Nordisk and the National Institutes of Health. The details of the study have been published in Nature Medicine.