Researchers Develop Swallowable Device that Injects Insulin Painlessly
Painful insulin injects may go the way of the dinosaurs
For many people with diabetes, living with the disease requires multiple needle sticks a day to inject insulin and control their blood sugar. But in the future, diabetics might be able to take their insulin in pill-form. Two groups of researchers are working to make this possible in the future.
The groups, from MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital, have developed an insulin delivery system that still uses a needle, but it’s so small that it can be swallowed, pain-free.
The pea-sized device contains a spring that injects a tiny dart of solid insulin into the wall of the stomach, according to Carlo Giovanni Traverso, an associate physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital.
“We chose the stomach as the site of delivery because we recognized that the stomach is a thick and robust part of the GI tract.”
Once the device reaches the stomach, the humidity there allows the spring to launch the insulin dart. If the idea makes you cringe, you can relax; it doesn’t hurt, thanks to the lack of pain receptors in the stomach. Once the injection has occurred, the needle breaks down in the digestive tract.  
That all sounded good, in theory, but the researchers had to overcome the issue of getting the device to orient itself in such a way that it injected the insulin directly into the stomach. If you swallow a pill, you don’t have much control over which direction it lands once it’s in the body. 
Fortunately, nature provided the solution.
“Leopard tortoises happened to have evolved a way of doing this.”
MIT wrote in the journal Science: 
“The researchers drew their inspiration for the self-orientation feature from a tortoise known as the leopard tortoise. This tortoise, which is found in Africa, has a shell with a high, steep dome, allowing it to right itself if it rolls onto its back. The researchers used computer modeling to come up with a variant of this shape for their capsule, which allows it to reorient itself even in the dynamic environment of the stomach.”
Do you remember Weebles – those toys from your childhood that “wobble but they don’t fall down”? Those, too, provided inspiration for how to properly orient the device in the body. 
The researchers said in the journal Science that they’ve tested the insulin-delivery device on pigs, where it successfully injects a therapeutic dose of insulin provided the pig has an empty stomach.
Both teams of researchers have partnered with the global healthcare company Novo Nordisk to prepare the device for use in humans. It could be ready for human testing in a few years.
Julie Fidler is a freelance writer, legal blogger, and the author of Adventures in Holy Matrimony: For Better or the Absolute Worst. She lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and two ridiculously spoiled cats. She occasionally pontificates on her blog.