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How a Tortoise Shaped Pill will End Drug Injections

First Posted: Apr 01, 2019 10:05 PM EDT
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The CDC estimates that as much as 100 million Americans have diabetes or pre-diabetes meaning that many of those will have to start or already are using insulin to live a normal life. Needles are a part of a diabetic's life, but even so, a lot of them despise the procedure. The average patient also tends to hate needles with ABC News mentioning that the fear of needles is a lot more prevalent than most people expect. Luckily, for some patients, the use of needles may be a thing of the past if current research has anything to say about it. How amazing it would be to deliver drugs without having to rely on a needle.

A Wonder of Science

A paper published in the journal Science discusses the method of delivering macromolecules to the body through the gut offering us some insight into the development of a new way of drug delivery that is far less invasive than an injection. These macromolecules may be any sort of drug, but the initial testing uses insulin as a test case. The study goes on to show that the reasoning behind the methodology stems from how easy the human body incorporates drugs delivered through the stomach. The initial testing was done on rats and pigs and based on these initial results there is hope that it may be adapted to work in humans. This particular medial advancement is the product of the combinations of many bioengineering breakthroughs as significant as male scrubs and its role in sterilization and reducing spread of infection.

From Science Fiction to Reality

It would be pretty far-fetched to think that the shape of a tortoise's shell would have anything to do with drug delivery through the gut, but that's one of the technologies at work here. BBC makes a note of the researchers' interest in the Leopard Tortoise's ability to reorient itself passively when looking at ways to routinely deliver drugs to the stomach. The idea was to utilize this to ensure that the capsule manages to get to the location where it can be most effective. The reason the researchers chose the stomach as the point of delivery was because of its relative lack of pain receptors, ensuring that a pin-prick that the embedded needle would deliver would be virtually painless to the recipient.

The Mechanics of Function

The stomach isn't just the place which will allow for the most efficient delivery of drugs, but it also comes with a built-in method for release. The pill can be quickly dissolved and release a minuscule post of insulin. The insulin needle was designed to be compressed, as if by a spring, so that when released from the capsule, it would inject its payload into the wall of the stomach. The size of the post also played an essential part since overdosing on insulin is just as dangerous as not having enough for a person with diabetes. By combining these three considerations the tortoise-shaped pill for drug delivery, termed SOMA, was created. Based on current lab tests with pigs and rats, the estimated delivery time for the capsule varies between five minutes and ten minutes.

The End of Needles?

While it's too early to speculate whether we will no longer have to use needles for drug delivery, this offers a lot of hope for patients who may have an innate fear of being stuck with one of them. The pill still has a lot of testing to go through before it becomes commercially available. This testing is to ensure the safety of the product through the medium to long term and to ensure that it doesn't cause any lasting damage to the lining of the stomach. Eventually, the aim is to use the pill to deliver a broader spectrum of drugs, not just insulin. It's a possibility, in the future, we may be lucky enough to see needles phased out as a delivery medium altogether.

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