October 6, 2016 |

Friday Think: could a pill replace injections for insulin users?

Niagara University innovation could make taking insulin simpler and provide more options for people with diabetes.
 Female market vendor.
Photo: PATH/Matthew Dakin.

What sprung from a desire to provide alternatives to daily insulin injections has resulted in a new technology that could have great impact on millions of people living with diabetes.

Until now, pills were not considered a viable solution for delivering insulin. That’s because in order for the insulin protein in a pill to reach the intestines and be absorbed into the bloodstream, it would need to travel through the stomach—and its inhospitable acids—without degrading.

The possibility of a pill that resists stomach acid is heartening news as the prevalence of diabetes is on the rise. For instance, in Africa, rates of diabetes are projected to more than double by 2040, with other regions not far behind. In some countries, people spend up to 20 days of wages for one month’s supply of insulin.

Making lifesaving medications affordable and accessible to people is something Helen McGuire, PATH’s director of the Noncommunicable Diseases (NCDs) Program feels strongly about. “Pursuit of medical and technological advancements that make treatment and monitoring more accessible and improve people’s quality of life,” says McGuire, “is at the core of patient-centered innovation and essential to our NCD strategy.”

In a recent SlashGear article, writer Brittany A. Roston reports that researchers at Niagara University have developed a new method that encapsulates insulin in a series of small spheres that can pass safely through stomach acids.

This time around, a trio of researchers with Niagara University have unveiled their own development: ‘a new technology called a Cholestosome,’ according to team lead Dr. Mary McCourt. She described the substance as ‘a neutral, lipid-based particle that is capable of doing some very interesting things.’

The Cholestosomes are used to encapsulate the insulin, creating a stomach acid-resistant barrier between the acid and the insulin, allowing it to persevere in the stomach and survive to the intestines. Once the intestines are reached, the substance is absorbed and the vesicles make their way into the bloodstream. Finally, they’re pulled into cells where the insulin is released.

There is still more work to be done in the lab, but if testing is successful, the team hopes to continue the development of this pill through human trials.

Head over to SlashGear to learn more.

Friday Think is an ocassional on PATH blog.During the week we scour the news for the hottest stories on innovation. Our feature, Friday Think, highlights one we’ve found particularly fascinating.

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  • Portrait of Tracy Romoser. Photo: PATH/Patrick McKern.
    Tracy Romoser is a communications officer and the blog editor at PATH.