Ingestible Capsule Delivers Injectible Drugs

No one wants to mess with needles to treat disease. Needles hurt for the person receiving the injection and pose a significant risk of infection for those administering the injections. Needles also have to be dealt with for disposal, which is a costly process. Researchers have created a new capsule that can be taken orally that can deliver drugs that usually have to be injected.

The reason that many drugs, particularly those that are made of proteins, can't be taken orally is that the digestive tract breaks them down. MIT engineers have been working with scientists from Novo Nordisk to design a new drug capsule that can carry insulin or other protein drugs and protect them from the harsh conditions in the stomach.

The capsule is swallowed, and when it reaches the small intestine, it breaks down to reveal dissolvable micro-needles that attach to the intestinal wall and release the medication payload to be taken into the bloodstream. So far, the team has been testing in pigs, and they have found that the capsule can load a comparable amount of insulin as an injection would deliver.

The team says that most drugs are absorbed via the small intestine because of the extremely large surface area. That part of the body also lacks pain receptors, so there are no pain associated with the injection. To allow the capsule to reach the small intestine; the team coated it with a polymer that can survive the acidic stomach.

The stomach has a pH of 1.5 to 3.5. When the capsule reaches the small intestine, which has pH around 6, it is triggered to break open with three folded arms inside the capsule springing open. Each of those arms has patches of 1mm long micro-needles that can carry insulin or other drugs. The force of them opening allows them to penetrate the topmost layer of small intestine tissue and deliver their drugs. The needles dissolve after injection.