Diabetes Daily

Will Insulin in a Pill Soon Become a Reality? – Diabetes Daily

Since insulin was first discovered and isolated for therapeutic use nearly 100 years ago, most everyone with insulin-dependent diabetes has had to rely on exogenous insulin, given in the form of injections, whether via an insulin pump or multiple daily shots every single day of their lives (inhalable insulin was approved by the FDA in 2014, but its use is not widespread).

While research and development have come a long way in that time, the reality for millions (and over 7 million people in the United States alone) has been thousands upon thousands of invasive injections, oftentimes causing scarring, bruising, and pain. However, that may be about to change.

Researchers from the New York University in Abu Dhabi have successfully developed a pill using nanomaterial layers that disseminate insulin in rats safely without being destroyed by their stomach acids. This could be life-changing for the millions of people around the world who rely on insulin to live.

“Imagine being able to take insulin in a pill instead of injecting it a couple of times a day,” said first author Farah Benyettou, a research scientist in the Trabolsi Research Group at the New York University in Abu Dhabi. “The insulin was loaded in a system that protects it from the acidic environment of the stomach. Once in the body, the system can sense the blood sugar level and can release the loaded insulin on demand.”

A pill form of insulin has the potential to radically change the daily management of diabetes for the better: It would make treatment easier for children and people with a fear of needles, safer for both patients and clinicians in hospital and clinic settings, more effective, and patient-friendly.

Nearly 30% of people with diabetes rely on insulin injections, and while it might not be for everyone, this revolutionary advancement would be the first of its kind in the world.

Other attempts at orally administering insulin have been made in the past but faced roadblocks in the gastrointestinal tract, where stomach acids and bile quickly destroy insulin and any effectiveness it has.

This is different from common type 2 diabetes drugs like Metformin that aren’t insulin but simply improve the efficacy of insulin that their body already makes.

The research team in Abu Dhabi thinks it has solved the problem of the insulin-destroying stomach bile issue by encapsulating insulin within nCOF nanoparticles in a capsule that is resistant to such acids but responsive to sugar, reacting quickly when it senses blood glucose in the body is rising but survives the dangerous journey down the G.I. tract to reach the bloodstream.

This new advancement also has the potential to reduce or eliminate low blood sugars, as the release of insulin shuts off as soon as it senses blood sugars have fallen. This creates a helpful feedback loop and prevents an overdose of insulin, which for many, is an almost a daily occurrence on injections, where people are constantly walking a balance beam to prevent both high and low blood sugars in a world of stress, meals, exercise, and normal everyday living.

While this is all excellent news, it’s important to remember that the study’s success was only observed in rats, and human bodies are very different. The team will next test different nanomaterials to see what may be appropriate for human trials, and potentially, widespread market availability.

“Our revolutionary technology developed at NYUAD will dramatically improve the well-being of diabetic patients worldwide in a very simple and straightforward way,” says senior author Ali Trabolsi, an associate professor of chemistry at the New York University in Abu Dhabi.

While taking a daily insulin pill may is far from a functional cure, managing diabetes could become easier than ever, especially if the threat of low blood sugars is greatly reduced or eliminated.

The team hopes that diabetes management can soon be a lot less stressful, painful, and dangerous for the millions of people around the world who currently rely on insulin.



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