Insulin pills could end the need for painful injections


Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) have just obtained a major step closer to developing oral insulin pills to help people manage their diabetes.

“These exciting results show that we are well on the way to developing an insulin formulation that will no longer need to be injected before each meal, improving quality of life, as well as mental health, for more than nine million type 1 diabetics worldwide. said lead researcher Anubhav Pratap-Singh.

Uncontrolled diabetes leads to nerve damage, heart disease, blindness, etc.

Why is this important: Insulin is a hormone that our body uses to convert blood sugar into energy. Because people with type 1 diabetes don’t naturally produce enough insulin (or at all), they need regular injections of synthetic insulin to keep their blood sugar levels stable.

Uncontrolled diabetes leads to nerve damage, heart disease, blindness, etc., but some people who should treat their diabetes do not control it properly because they have a fear of needles.

Insulin pills would solve this problem and make life easier for all diabetics, because nobody likes injections. The pills would also be easier to store and transport than insulin bottles, which need to be refrigerated.

The challenge: Insulin pills have been in development for decades, but one thing holding them back is their low absorption rate – too much of the insulin in the pills gets broken down in the stomach.

The new insulin pills are dissolved between the gum and the cheek, rather than swallowed.

To get enough insulin through the stomach and intestines, where it can be absorbed into the bloodstream, en route to its ultimate destination – the liver – previous pills had to contain high doses of insulin.

“For injected insulin, we usually need 100 IU per injection,” said first author Yigong Guo. “Other swallowed pills in development that go into the stomach could require 500 IU of insulin, which is mostly wasted, and that’s a major issue that we’ve tried to work around.”

Naughty idea: To prevent their insulin pills from breaking down into stomach acid, the UBC team designed them to be dissolved between the gum and the cheek, rather than swallowed.

In tests on rats, they found that almost 100% of their soluble insulin reached the rodents’ livers and almost none was found in their stomachs. This insulin was also faster acting than other tablets being developed, which tend to release insulin slowly over several hours.

“Similar to rapid-acting insulin injection, our oral tablet absorbs after half an hour and can last around two to four hours,” said researcher Alberto Baldelli.

Look forward: More research and funding is needed for UBC’s insulin pills to reach clinical trials, but the team hopes their pills can one day make treating diabetes simpler, cheaper and even more sustainable.

“More than 300,000 Canadians need to inject insulin several times a day,” Pratap-Singh said. “That’s a lot of environmental waste from needles and syringe plastic that might not be recycled and go to landfill, which wouldn’t be a problem with an oral tablet.”

The big picture: UBC’s dissolving insulin pills are just one promising avenue in the search for better diabetes treatments.

NYU Abu Dhabi researchers are developing an oral insulin delivery system that uses ‘nanosheets’ to protect the hormone in the stomach, while a team at UT Southwestern is developing an insulin injection for people with type 2 diabetes which can be given weekly, rather than several times a day.

Perhaps most exciting, however, is a stem cell treatment developed by Boston-based biopharmaceutical company Vertex Pharmaceuticals that has permanently cured a man of his type 1 diabetes, ending his need for synthetic insulin. , oral Where injected.

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