Now, researchers at the Harvard John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences (SEAS) have developed an oral delivery method that could dramatically transform the way in which diabetics keep their blood sugar levels in check.
Not only does oral delivery of insulin promise to improve the quality of life for up to 40 million people with type 1 diabetes worldwide, it could also mitigate many of the disease's life-threatening side effects that result from patients failing to give themselves required injections.
The research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Insulin therapy, by injection just under the skin or delivered by an insulin pump, generally keeps the glucose levels of most diabetics in check. "But many people fail to adhere to that regimen due to pain, phobia of needles, and the interference with normal activities," said senior author Samir Mitragotri, Hiller Professor of Bioengineering and Hansjorg Wyss Professor of Biologically Inspired Engineering at SEAS. "The consequences of the resulting poor glycemic control can lead to serious health complications."
Finding a way to deliver insulin orally has been elusive; the protein does not fare well when it encounters the stomach's acidic environment and it is poorly absorbed out of the intestine. The key to the new approach is to carry insulin in an ionic liquid comprised of choline and geranic acid that is then put inside a capsule with an acid-resistant enteric coating. The formulation is biocompatible, easy to manufacture, and can be stored for up to two months at room temperature without degrading, which is longer than some injectable insulin products currently on the market.
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