Diabetics could ditch daily injections as scientists develop insulin pill
NEW YORK – A pill that will save millions of diabetics worldwide from administering invasive daily insulin injections is now on the verge of becoming reality.
Scientists are developing a new way of delivering the hormone orally using tiny vesicles that can deliver insulin where it needs to go, without a shot. These new vesicles are reportedly made of naturally occurring lipid molecules, which are normal building blocks of fats.
According to Professor Mary McCourt of Niagara University, New York State: “We have developed a new technology called a Cholestosome.
“A Cholestosome is a neutral, lipid-based particle that is capable of doing some very interesting things.”
Dr McCourt explained that the biggest hurdle to delivering insulin orally is getting it through the stomach intact, since proteins like insulin are no match for the highly acidic environment of the stomach.
They degrade before they can move into the intestines and bloodstream, where they are needed to lower blood glucose levels.
Several approaches have been tried to overcome this problem, with one – currently in clinical trials – packaging insulin inside a protective coating to shield the protein from stomach acids.
Inhalable insulin has also been used, but despite positive reviews from some patients, it met with little success.
McCourt’s team has nevertheless developed a new approach with promising results.
Using the patented Cholestosomes developed in the lab, the researchers have successfully encapsulated insulin in a coating made of fat, which protects it so it can get through the digestive system into the bloodstream.
The new vesicles are unlike other lipid-based drug carriers, called liposomes, researchers said.
Niagara University’s Dr Lawrence Mielnicki said: “Most liposomes need to be packaged in a polymer coating for protection.
“Here, we’re just using simple lipid esters to make vesicles with the drug molecules inside.”
Computer modelling showed that once the lipids are assembled into spheres, they form neutral particles resistant to attack from stomach acids. Drugs can be loaded inside, and the particles can pass through the stomach without degrading.
The vesicles pass through the intestines, into the bloodstream, and then cells take them in and break them apart, releasing insulin.
Tests with rats showed that certain formulations of Cholestosomes loaded with insulin have high “bioavailability” – meaning that the vesicles travel into the bloodstream where the insulin needs to be.
The researchers now plan to further optimise the formulations and develop new partnerships to move into human trials.
Around 420 million people worldwide suffer from diabetes and 3.7 million deaths are attributed to the disease each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).
The life-threatening condition is endemic in the Caribbean.