Promising Microneedle-Covered Capsule to Supersede Injections?
A swallowable microneedle-covered capsule—approximately 2 centimeters long and 1 centimeter in diameter—was devised by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) researchers, working with Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), as a way to deliver medications orally and perhaps replace injections in the future.
The prototype pill is made of acrylic—serving as a medication reservoir—and encased with tiny hollow stainless steel needles (5 millimeters in length) that are designed to “inject” drugs directly into the stomach lining. Large medications, usually consisting of proteins, are not readily absorbable and thus degraded in the stomach and rendered useless before it can be absorbed. Insulin was tested in pigs using the microneedle-covered capsule technology and was found to lower blood glucose levels more effectively than subcutaneous insulin injections.
However, the capsule took longer than a week to go through the digestive tract and evidence of tissue damage was not apparent. The scientists also claim the gastrointestinal (GI) tract has no pain receptors so no discomfort is felt as the microneedle-covered capsule moves through the GI canal.
The new medication delivery mechanism may be better suited for injecting into the gut a class of drugs called biologics that include vaccines, recombinant DNA, RNA, and antibodies, such as those for autoimmune diseases like arthritis and Crohn’s disease that often require intravenous infusions to ensure effective drug delivery. Nanoparticles and microparticles were originally engineered for oral medication delivery for biologics but they are expensive to manufacture and a new system has to be created for a different drug. With the microneedle-covered capsule, the researchers are aiming for a universal delivery system that can be reproduced for different drugs inexpensively.
To ensure absolute safety, the scientists are working on replacing the stainless steel needles with digestible polymers and sugar that would continue to release medication into the GI lining once it breaks off from the capsule and lodges itself into the gut as it decomposes.