Microneedle pill could eliminate injections for diabetes, Crohn's disease and more
MIT researchers are working on a way to eliminate the need for injectable medications with a new drug-delivery capsule that contains microneedles. The capsule, when tested, worked better than insulin injections and could work even better for Crohn's and arthritis treatments.
The finding could mean no more insulin injections for diabetics and it could also mean patients with cancer, Crohn's disease and other autoimmune disorders could swallow a capsule to obtain antibodies and other therapies.
Researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) have devised exactly that, but so far it has only been tested in pigs.
No more painful injections
The capsule, coated with tiny needles, delivers medications painlessly to the GI tract. In experiments the capsule passed through the digestive system with no side effects and delivered insulin more efficiently than standard subcutaneous injections.
Researchers at MIT explain the capsule is painless because the GI tract lacks pain sensors.
“This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research fellow at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at MGH, and one of the lead authors of the study.
For diabetics it could mean no more insulin injections. For those with rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis, it could mean a new way to receive biological therapies that are currently given in infusions.
Drug-delivery pill could be used for biological therapies
The researchers tested the drug-delivery capsule with insulin. But the expectation is that it would be most useful for biological therapies used for Crohn's disease and arthritis.
"The large size of these biologic drugs makes them nonabsorbable. And before they even would be absorbed, they’re degraded in your GI tract by acids and enzymes that just eat up the molecules and make them inactive,” says Carl Schoellhammer, a graduate student in chemical engineering and a lead author of the paper in a press release.
Another possible application of the drug is for vaccine delivery, the study authors said.
The next step is to modify the capsule so that the normal movement of the GI tract, or peristalsis, squeezes the drug out of the capsule.
To make the microneedle capsules safer, the MIT and MGH team are also looking at making biodegradable needles and adding sugar that would break off, embed in the GI tract and continue to deliver drugs as the sugar molecules disintegrate.
In the future it might be possible to deliver drugs like Humira, used to treat diabetes and autoimmune diseases like Crohn's and rheumatoid arthritis with a small capsule taken by mouth.
Image credit: Massachusetts Institute of Technology