Millions of people worldwide with type 1 diabetes.
About the size of a blueberry, the self-orienting millimeter-scale applicator (SOMA) is a drug capsule that delivers oral doses of insulin. It contains a small needle made of compressed insulin, which is injected after the capsule reaches the stomach. In tests, it was shown to deliver enough insulin to lower blood sugar to levels comparable to those produced by injections given through skin. The tip of the needle is made of nearly 100% compressed, freeze-dried insulin, using the same process used to form tablets of medicine. The shaft of the needle, which does not enter the stomach wall, is made from another biodegradable material. Within the capsule, the needle is attached to a compressed spring that is held in place by a disk made of sugar. When the capsule is swallowed, water in the stomach dissolves the sugar disk, releasing the spring and injecting the needle into the stomach wall. To ensure that the drug is injected into the stomach wall — no matter how the capsule lands in the stomach — it can orient itself so the needle is in contact with the lining of the stomach. Once the tip of the needle is injected into the stomach wall, the insulin dissolves at a rate that can be controlled as the capsule is prepared. After the capsule releases its contents, it can pass harmlessly through the digestive system.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
The MIT team is working with Novo Nordisk to further develop the technology and optimize the manufacturing process for the capsules.
The capsule could replace the injections that people with type 1 diabetes have to give themselves every day. It could also be used for any protein drug that normally has to be injected, such as immunosuppressants used to treat rheumatoid arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease.