Oral pill might one day replace insulin injection in the treatment of diabetes

According to the American Diabetes Association, there were 30.3 million Americans who had diabetes in 2015, and there are 1.5 million that get diagnosed every year.

Diabetes is a metabolic disease that causes high blood sugar. The hormone insulin moves sugar from the blood to the cells for it to be used as energy. With diabetes, your body either doesn’t produce enough insulin or can’t effectively use that insulin that it makes.

Its three main types are Type 1, Type 2, and gestational diabetes.

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease where the immune system mistakenly attacks and destroys insulin-producing beta cells in the pancreas. To this day, it is still unclear for doctors what causes this attack.

Type 2 diabetes is where sugar builds up in your blood because your body has become resistant to insulin. This is the type that stems from a combination of genetics and lifestyle factors.

Gestational diabetes is high blood sugar during pregnancy. The placenta produces insulin-blocking hormones which cause this type of diabetes.

The general symptoms of diabetes include increased hunger, increased thirst, weight loss, frequent urination, blurry vision, extreme fatigue, and sores that don’t heal.

To keep the level of glucose in the bloodstream within a normal range, doctors prescribe Type 2 diabetes patients with medications and insulin, as needed. This type can also be managed with diet and exercise, but for Type 1 patients, insulin will be required for life.

Insulin can be administered in a variety of ways: through insulin syringes, insulin pens, insulin pumps, and jet injectors. But the most common method used is syringes. They are the least expensive option and most insurance companies cover them.

Recently, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have developed a way for diabetics to take insulin through oral administration, saving patients from daily painful needle pokes.

This new delivery method comes in the form of a blueberry-sized pill. Once it is swallowed, it is able to align itself on the tissue of the gastrointestinal tract and deploy a tiny needle, known as a “millipost,” which delivers the insulin, according to a report published in Science.

“The oral route is preferred by both patients and health care providers,” Giovanni Traverso, a senior author of the paper and assistant professor at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, told ABC News.

Felice Frankel | h / t: ABC News

The pill technology has only been tested in rats and pigs, but trial results showed that the animals didn’t suffer from any complications or side effects, such as blockages in the administration of the drug or unwanted perforations in the gastric tissue. With that, the device is still in the initial stages of development, and further testing is warranted.

“We anticipate the first human trials will happen within the next three to five years, but then the device will need to go into clinical trials as well,” first author Alex Abramson, a graduate student at MIT, told ABC News.

It had been difficult to develop an oral route for insulin administration since the hormone is broken down in the digestive process, and the device created by MIT might just change that.

“We hope that anything that is currently delivered via an injection could be given using this pill,” said Bob Langer, a senior author and professor at MIT.

The approval of this pill technology will surely bring relief, not only to diabetes patients around the world but also to other patients that receive their medications intravenously.

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