Insulin injection you swallow

A new device turns injections into drugs you can swallow...
13 February 2019


Paraphernalia needed by diabetics to control blood sugar


A device you can swallow to take medicine without injections has been developed by US researchers...

If you and needles are uneasy bedfellows, or you have a condition like diabetes that requires frequent insulin injections, a pea-sized device you can swallow could soon make life a lot more comfortable.

Loaded with medication, after it’s swallowed the device enters the stomach where, thanks to its clever shape, it automatically orientates itself and adopts the right angle to deliver a painless injection into the stomach wall.

“Within seconds it reaches the stomach and within a few minutes you have the injection occur. It then transits out of the body, excreted as any other food material would, typically around 24 hours later,” explains Harvard-based inventor Giovanni Traverso.

According to Traverso, the inspiration for the device, which is described in the latest edition of the journal Science, cames from the ability of a tortoise species to always right itself if ever it tips over onto its back.

The same clever shape as the tortoise’s shell and cleverly positioned weights ensure that the injector swings into an upright injecting position wherever it lands, including in the stomach. So, unlike the toast you had for breakfast, which we all know from bitter experience has a tendency to land butter-side down, the new device always ends up pointing in the right direction.

In initial tests, a tip of compressed insulin was loaded into a dissolvable injector that melts away after it’s been used. The injector is spring-loaded to provide the force needed to propel the drug into the stomach lining.

To make sure that this happens at the correct time, the device uses a sugar-based trigger to release the spring. The wet environment of the stomach snaps the sugar, releasing its hold on the spring and firing the insulin into the stomach wall. “We have control over when this microinjection occurs and over the timeframe over which that drug is released into the circulation,” explains Traverso.

The injector solves a major problem of drug delivery for agents like insulin which, because they are proteins and would be broken down by digestive juices if swallowed, currently require injection through the skin to ensure that they reach the bloodstream. Instead they’re injected safely and painlessly from the inside after swallowing them like a pill.

So far the Harvard team have shown that their design can self-right and stabilise itself in the stomachs of pigs. Now further animal studies are being conducted and industrial collaborators are assisting with considerations related to scaling up production of such devices, with the expectation of human trials within the next three years.


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