Oral Insulin: A Life-Changing Healthcare Breakthrough

Neil Mehta, Staff Writer

Recent breakthroughs in biotechnology may aid researchers in the development of a groundbreaking medical advancement. The push to develop an oral insulin delivery system has seen great progress in the past months, suggesting a promising future for this life-changing technology.

Insulin, a peptide hormone, is absolutely essential to the human body—we could not live without it. The hormone is produced in our pancreas and is used to aid cells in absorbing glucose through the bloodstream. Without it, we would be unable to use carbohydrates as energy, as sugar would accumulate in the bloodstream.

Normally, insulin is produced by specialized cells known as beta cells, which detect increased concentrations of glucose and produce insulin as a response. However, over one million Americans suffer from a condition known as Type-1 Diabetes, a disease in which beta cells are unable to produce insulin. As a result, these individuals are required to take regular (generally self-administered) injections of insulin via syringe or insulin pump. These regular injections have the potential to cause skin conditions such as lipohypertrophy (fat buildup at injection sites) and can be painful in many cases.

Despite the disadvantages of regularly administering injections, the idea of using oral insulin (through a pill) has been widely disregarded in the past, as it is generally accepted that the digestive juices in the stomach would break down the insulin, rendering it ineffective. However, recent research has suggested otherwise—oral insulin treatment could become a reality in the near future.

The new pill design, pioneered by scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Novo Nordisk, is inspired in part by nature—the shape of the pill is based on the tortoise shell, which has the ability to reorient itself when flipped on its back. The pill is ingested and travels to the stomach, where a needle tipped with freeze-dried insulin is injected into the gastric wall. The reliable tortoise-inspired structure is essential, as the pill needs to be oriented properly to meet its target against a moving body.

This revolutionary new technology is one of the first truly groundbreaking innovations in diabetes treatment and insulin delivery since the first insulin injection was administered in the early 20th century. Not only does this technology open up a wide array of possibilities for diabetes treatment, but also provides an alternative delivery method for various drugs that can not be taken through a traditional pill. And as scientists continue to lead the healthcare industry towards more comfortable and affordable treatments for patients, the future of diabetes treatment looks promising for the millions of affected individuals throughout the world.