Though a needle-covered pill might not sound entirely appetizing, researchers at MIT think this drug-delivery method might be more effective than the traditional under-the-skin shot.
The researchers, in collaboration with others at Massachusetts General Hospital, devised a pill covered in tiny needles, which they call "microneedles," that would inject the substance be it a drug, vaccine or other treatment into stomach lining.
According to the MIT news release, scientists previously tried other ingestible delivery methods for "biologics," which includes vaccines and antibodies, but they were expensive and not universal for different types of drugs. Stomach acids often destroyed the material that doctors would want to deliver to a patient as well.
The pill, which MIT described as a "prototype acrylic capsule, 2 centimeters long and 1 centimeter in diameter, [that] includes a reservoir for the drug and is coated with hollow, stainless steel needles about 5 millimeters long," however, eliminates these sorts of issues.
Worried about pain though? According to MIT, previous studies have shown that ingestion of sharp objects do not result in pain because the GI tract doesn't have these pain receptors. The needles would initially be covered when swallowed with a coating that would break down in the stomach.
The researchers already tested the pill with insulin on pigs. The pill took a week to pass through the entire GI tract and the scientists did not find any sign of internal damage to the pigs. They also determined that the insulin delivery was faster and more effective than what they would usually see with a traditional shot of insulin through the skin.
“The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration,” MIT Koch Institute fellow Giovanni Traverso, who is also a gastroenterologist at the hospital, told MIT. “For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency.”
Watch this video from MIT about the needle-covered capsule:
These findings were published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.
Going forward, the team is working on a design that would allow the drug to be squeezed out of the capsule as it moved through the body and another where the needles are degradable and would break off into the stomach lining.
This story has been updated to correct a typo.