A team of researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara, US, are working on a pill form of insulin to manage blood sugar levels in sufferers of diabetes and replace traditional insulin injections.

While pills are available to help assist the body with producing insulin, developing a pill that delivers insulin has so far proven more difficult, as the proteins need to pass through the body without being destroyed by the stomach acids. Currently for patients that require insulin this means insulin shots sometimes several times a day. This can result in those that dislike needles to miss injections, possibly leading to further health complications and hospitalisation.

To solve this problem the team working on the new oral insulin alternative have developed a combination of an enteric coating to surround the pill, with special patches contained inside that are loaded with insulin ready to be delivered into the body once the pill has safely reached its destination.

The enteric coating first protects the medication by being able to withstand the highly acidic environment of the stomach, with the coating only breaking down once it has reached the environment of the small intestine. It is here that the insulin-loaded patches are then released, where they attach onto the intestinal wall to safely pass the insulin into the bloodstream, taking away the need for an injection.

Not only could the pill relieve the discomfort of the injection, but it could also prove a more effective way of delivering insulin to the body. “When you deliver insulin by injection, it goes first through the peripheral bloodstream and then to blood circulation in the liver,” explained Samir Mitragotri, a professor in the Department of Chemical Engineering who specializes in targeted drug delivery. He adds, “Oral delivery would take a more direct route, from a physiological point of view, a better one.”

Although further testing needs to be done, the pill could potentially also open up new options to sufferers of other diseases who currently inject protein-based medications such as growth hormones, antibodies and vaccines. – AFP Relaxnews