Scientists create insulin tablet that can be taken orally

Scientists create insulin tablet that can be taken orally, replacing injections diabetics must currently give themselves multiple times a day

  • A team at the University of British Columbia has developed an insulin pill that is just as effective as injections of the hormone
  • The pill can successfully deliver the dosage to the liver instead of losing some as it travels through the stomach
  • First trials were conducted on rats, and found great success in getting insulin to the liver
  • More than 10% of Americans suffer from diabetes, and the condition kills around 100,000 people in the U.S. each year 

A research team has developed an oral tablet that can deliver insulin to the body without the use of needles.

Scientists at the University of British Columbia (UBC), in Canada, have developed a pill that delivers an entire dosage of insulin to a person’s liver. Previous attempts at oral insulin medication have been foiled after large portions of the doses ended up in the stomach – where it provides no value.

Many diabetics require several doses of insulin to manage their condition daily. Currently, the standard delivery method is via injections with small needles multiple times a day. This can be especially uncomfortable, unwieldy and is harder than just taking a pill. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that 37 million Americans – or more than one-in-ten – suffer from diabetes. It is the eighth leading cause of death in America, responsible for just over 100,00 fatalities each year.

A team at UBC has developed a pill that can deliver dosages of insulin orally that a diabetic would often need to inject themselves to receive (file photo)

‘These exciting results show that we are on the right track in developing an insulin formulation that will no longer need to be injected before every meal, improving the quality of life, as well as mental health, of more than nine million type 1 diabetics around the world,’ Dr Anubhav Pratap-Singh, an assistant professor in food processing at UBC and principal investigator of the study said in a statement.

The researchers developed a pull that uses a thin membrane called the buccal mucosa that is found in the inner cheek lining and in the back of a person’s lips.

This membrane provides a protective lining around the dosage and allows it to pass through to its destination without losing medicine along the way.

Insulin is naturally produced in the pancreas, then travels to the liver where it helps process blood sugar.

A person suffering from type 1 diabetes does not produce enough insulin to manage blood sugar – if at all. All type 1 diabetics require some sort of insulin dosage to manage their condition.

Those with type 2 diabetes may also need insulin medication, a the amount of the substance their body naturally produces may not be enough to deal with their elevated blood sugar.

The standard injection of insulin in 100 international units (iu) per shot.

Because a vast majority of it is lost during oral delivery, previous attempts to develop an insulin pill have had to carry around 500iu to properly function.

This is extremely inefficient and could needlessly drive up the cost of pills – especially with how controversially expensive insulin has become in countries like the United States.

There is also the issue of how fast the serum is released. Injections are fast acting and quickly provide the body with the boost in insulin it needs.

Tablets can often take two to four hours to deliver the dosage. The pill developed by the UBC team is fully released within 30 minutes to two hours.

Insulin injections are used by many type 1 diabetics, and even some type 2 diabetics, to boost levels of the hormone and manage their blood sugar

‘Similar to the rapid-acting insulin injection, our oral delivery tablet absorbs after half an hour and can last for about two to four hours long,’ Dr Alberto Baldelli, a senior fellow who took part in the research, said. 

Researchers tested their newly developed pill on rats in attempt to see how they would flow through the body. Results of the trials were promising.

‘Even after two hours of delivery, we did not find any insulin in the stomachs of the rats we tested,’ Yigong Guo, first author of the study and PhD candidate at UBC, said.

‘It was all in the liver and this is the ideal target for insulin—it’s really what we wanted to see.’ 

The American Diabetes Association says that the current crop of available diabetes pills are only to be used in additional insulin injections, for people who need additional help managing their condition.

These pills are also only recommended for type 2 diabetics to use, with no option for those suffering from type 1.

The UBC team is hoping its new invention can help close that gap for those whose pancreas does not produce enough insulin, and give them an easier option to receive dosages.

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