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Delivering Insulin in a Pill for Diabetics

October 11, 2019


Given the choice of taking a pill or injecting
oneself with a needle, most of us would opt to regulate a chronic health condition by
swallowing a pill. But for millions of people living with type
1 diabetes, a painful needle prick once or twice daily is the only option for delivering
the insulin that their bodies cannot produce on their own. Now, Harvard researchers have developed an
oral delivery method that could dramatically transform the way in which diabetics keep
their blood sugar levels in check. Not only does oral delivery of insulin promise
to improve the quality of life for up to 40 million people with type 1 diabetes worldwide,
it could also mitigate many of the disease’s life-threatening side effects that result
from patients failing to give themselves required injections. Insulin therapy, by injection just under the
skin or delivered by an insulin pump, generally keeps the glucose levels of most diabetics
in check. 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. Finding a way to deliver insulin orally has
been elusive; the protein does not fare well when it encounters the stomach’s acidic
environment and it is poorly absorbed out of the intestine. The key to the new approach is to carry insulin
in an ionic liquid comprised of choline and geranic acid that is then put inside a capsule
with an acid-resistant enteric coating. The formulation is biocompatible, easy to
manufacture, and can be stored for up to two months at room temperature without degrading,
which is longer than some injectable insulin products currently on the market.

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