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Robotic pill delivering drugs to well could end insulin injections

A motorized drug carrier capsule protects drugs from stomach acid and enzymes before releasing them into the small intestine.


September 28, 2022

RoboCap on a plate in the lab

Shriya Srinivasan/MIT

A robotic pill that can propel itself through mucus in the gut could allow some injectable drugs, such as insulin or certain antibiotics, to be delivered orally.

To be absorbed into the bloodstream, medications taken by mouth have to survive strong stomach acid and enzymes, as well as maneuver through bacteria and mucus in the gut, which can rule out many sensitive medications. are taken this way. Only 1 percent of insulin, for example, is absorbed by the body when ingested because stomach enzymes break it down, so people with diabetes have to get injections instead.

Sriya Srinivasan at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and colleagues have developed a drug-carrying capsule called RoboCap that can pierce mucus in the small intestine and disperse its cargo. “I was watching videos of these machines that can tunnel and thought, ‘Okay, what if we did this but for mucus,'” she says.

The pill is 2.5 centimeters long and 1 centimeter wide, about the size of a large multivitamin, and is encased in a gelatin capsule that dissolves in stomach acid. The pH in the lower intestine activates the motor, which is powered by a small battery. The pill has fins and tacks on its surface, which help remove and scrape off mucus. Once it has pierced far enough, the drug is released and further mixed by the movement of the pill.

Srinivasan and colleagues tested RoboCap’s ability to deliver insulin in seven live pigs, comparing it to insulin delivered into the gut through a tube. They found that RoboCap increased the amount of drug absorbed by 20 to 40 percent and lowered blood sugar compared to the control group.

“RoboCap is an innovative concept that aims to overcome the current difficulty in oral administration of many advanced and emerging therapies, such as peptides, proteins and nucleic acids,” he says. abdul basit at University College London.

While the results are promising, more work is needed to examine how people with weakened immune systems might be affected, Basit says, as well as the pill’s effect on beneficial bacteria that reside in mucus..

Magazine reference: robotic science, DOI: 10.1126/scirobotics.abp9066

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