Hailed as the “holy grail” of diabetes treatments, a new type of insulin pill has now been developed by researchers, which it’s hoped will significantly improve the way diabetics are able to keep their blood sugar levels stable. The use of oral delivery for insulin could also eliminate the need for daily injections, which are used by millions of patients with type 1 diabetes. In previous studies, scientists have struggled to use this method of delivering insulin due to issues with it being absorbed in the stomach and intestines.

The new research, which was published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was carried out by scientists at the Harvard John A Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. It outlines their findings, which detail the new method of administering insulin to patients orally rather than by injection. They noted that it could dramatically improve the side effects seen by injecting under the skin or by using an insulin pump.

Two of the authors, Samir Mitragotri and Hansjorg Wyss, said: “But many people fail to adhere to that regimen due to pain, phobia of needles, and the interference with normal activities. The consequences of the resulting poor glycemic control can lead to serious health complications. Once ingested, insulin must navigate a challenging obstacle course before it can be effectively absorbed into the bloodstream. Our approach is like a Swiss army knife, where one pill has tools for addressing each of the obstacles that are encountered.”

The new treatment has been designed to make it easier for the body to absorb. In order to resist the breakdown of insulin by the acid in the gut, researchers used capsules which had an acid resistant coating. This means that when it reaches the less acidic environment in the small intestine, it dissolves and released insulin. The insulin is carried by an ionic liquid, which consists of chlorine and geranic acid, which can break through the muscle lining in the intestines and then be absorbed into the body’s cells.

Mark Prausnitz, junior chair in chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, who was not involved in the research, said: “It has been the holy grail of drug delivery to develop ways to give protein and peptide drugs like insulin by mouth, instead of injection. This study shows remarkable results where insulin given by mouth in combination with an ionic liquid works about as well as a conventional injection. The implications of this work to medicine could be huge, if the findings can be translated into pills that safely and effectively administer insulin and other peptide drugs to humans.”

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