If You Hate Needles, MIT Might Have Your Medicine

It doesn’t matter who you are: nobody likes injections. Regardless of your pain threshold or your experience with needles, injections are never a fun or comfortable experience.  Any diabetic patient who must inject insulin several times a day will tell you:  even as it becomes more familiar, it is still inconvenient and quite uncomfortable.  

New technology aims to finally change this, though. A team of scientists led by a research team from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a remarkable pea-sized gadget that can inject medicine from inside the body without the need for syringes. 

Now before we get into the tech lets clarify something: many drugs can be taken orally. And when patients have a choice between injection and oral applications, they typically choose the latter because it is easier, more convenient.  And doctors prefer oral applications as well because they tend to result in more consistent compliance.  But some drugs—like insulin—are very sensitive, and they cannot survive a trip through the entire human digestive system before being metabolized.  

This is what makes the MIT research so important.  The team has invented a capsule that will protect insulin until it reaches the stomach, at which point it can dissolve to expose the medicine to the stomach lining, where it “injects itself.”

But this is not the first time scientists have tried to do this.  The reason this attempt is so special has everything to do with the design of the device, which is weighted so the device lands where it is supposed to in order to effectively “poke” into the correct spot. 

The engineering for the pill is actually inspired by the shell of a tortoise in Africa. This animal can right itself if it is every flipped onto its back, simply by rocking in its weighted and curved shell.  

But that is not the end of the innovation.  After the pill “rights itself” in the stomach, a needle made of freeze-dried insulin compressed into a sharp point is ejected from the pod by a tiny spring bound to a sugar disk.  The pill capsule is made of stainless steel and biodegradable material. Essentially, stomach acid digests what it can and the body will excrete everything else so that the insulin can be quickly absorbed.  

So far, this new treatment has only been tested in pigs and more testing is scheduled.  If all goes well, the team expects to begin human testing in as early as three years.