Needle-coated pill offers safe oral delivery of insulin, vaccines

Needle-coated pill releasing drugs in the gut--Courtesy of MIT

A pill coated with tiny needles may help improve oral treatments, according to researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital. When swallowed, the pill delivers large molecules such as insulin into the lining of the stomach and does so more efficiently than an injection under the skin.

Oral insulin is a lofty goal for many companies that have looked for ways to deliver the large, fragile molecule in a way that ensures it remains effective but also makes it through the gut. The researchers at MIT and MGH tested their needled pill with insulin, and also think that it would be useful for antibody cancer treatments and ones for autoimmune diseases like arthritis and Crohn's disease.

"This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug," lead author Giovanni Traverso said in a statement.

The acrylic capsule is two centimeters long and one in diameter with a hollow reservoir, and has needles just 5 millimeters long on its edge. With needles that size, the process would be both painless and safe, according to previous studies. They tested it in pigs, finding no tissue damage during its weeklong voyage through the digestive tract.

The pill caused glucose levels to drop, similar to what happens when an animal gets treated with a subcutaneous injection, according to the university.

In the future, this could be a useful device for vaccine delivery, the researchers say, and they are working on ways to make the pill more effective in the gut and increase its safety.

- here's the MIT report