Researchers have been working to develop something called monoclonal antibodies to help fight disease and illness. A monoclonal antibody is a protein designed to mimic the immune system of the human body. This type of treatment can be used to fight various disease conditions, including some types of cancer and autoimmune disease.
One of the downsides of monoclonal antibody treatment is that the drugs have to be injected into the body. Researchers at MIT have collaborated with other scientists to develop an alternative delivery method that would eliminate the need for injections. MIT’s new delivery device is a capsule that is swallowed and has a small retractable needle to inject the medication directly into the stomach lining.
MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering Giovanni Traverso says that making medications easier for patients to take will increase the chances that they take the medication as prescribed. Researchers have demonstrated the new capsules can deliver monoclonal antibodies and other large protein drugs, including insulin. They have proven the capsules work in animal testing using pigs. It’s unclear when or if the new delivery system might be trialed in humans.
Medications consisting of large proteins can’t be taken via oral methods such as tablets or capsules because enzymes in the digestive tract break them down before they get to the site where they are absorbed. The capsule the team has developed has a steep dome inspired by the leopard tortoise.
Its shape makes it easier for the capsule to orient itself inside the body, so its needle injects into the stomach lining. While that shape had been used in previous experiments, the team did redesign its interior to deliver liquid drugs in quantities of up to four milligrams. The capsule is about the size of a blueberry. Once the capsule injects its medication, the needle retracts, allowing it to pass safely through the digestive tract.