A fear of needles or, as it is termed medically, needle phobia is one of the most common of phobias, afflicting an estimated 10% of the population. For those with needle phobia going to the doctor can be a traumatic experience when having blood drawn or medication delivered via needles is involved. However a team of researchers from MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital may have come up with a solution to the medication delivery concern: a capsule coated in needles that a patient can swallow to deliver drugs directly to the lining of the stomach.
Of course calming the fears of patients and preventing issues related to injection of medication wasn’t entirely the goal of this pill. Many medications, specifically those made from large protein molecules, cannot be ingested in traditional pill form as the digestive system will break them down as though they were food-based protein, rendering the medication useless. These medications are instead delivered via injection, but traditional injections are also not perfect because sometimes the human body doesn’t properly and completely absorb the injected drug molecules. Packaging these drugs, which includes drugs used in the treatment of cancer and vaccines, in a needle-bearing pill form allows for the medication to survive the digestion process and be injected into the stomach which may allow for better absorption and use.
To test the idea the research team made model pills out of stainless steel that contained a pool of insulin in the center. The outside contained hollow needles to pump the insulin into the body of pigs over a week’s time. The pills, roughly the size of a large vitamin, were coated in a material that dissolves in stomach acid to protect the throat from the needles. Future models will replace the needles with a sugar-based version to reduce injury risk further.
And how did the pill perform? The insulin in the needle-bearing capsule was more effective in the test pigs than the insulin that was shot under the skin. The researchers want to make more refinements before they can move towards human trials, specifically making changes so that inner muscles will squeeze the contents of the pill out and thus provide better control of timing.