Would You Swallow a Pill Covered in Needles Instead of Getting Injected?

By Sarah Zhang on at

After the first shudder, it sounds even more terrifying: a pill coated with tiny needles that injects you from the inside of your intestine. But the scientists at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital who developed the capsule say that these swallowable micro-needles could be a new (and painless!) way to deliver drugs. No more shots!

In a paper published in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, the team describes their two-centimetre-long acrylic capsule, filled with insulin and studded with hollow five-millimetre-long stainless steel needles. The micro-needles are too small to cause damage in the intestines. An initial version of the capsule has already been tested in pigs, and the pigs got their insulin without any obvious ill effects.

I don't know about you, but the idea of swallowing and then pooping out a spiky pill still freaks me out. Fortunately the researchers have some ideas on how make their prototype safer and less terrifying. The needles, for example, could hidden behind a pH-responsive shield, which dissolves only after it has passed through the stomach and reached the intestines. Instead of hollow steel needles, they could use also sugar-based solid micro-needles with the drug built right in. Hopefully, they can make the capsule smaller, too.

Aside from delivering insulin, the capsule could also be used to deliver other drugs such as antibodies, which are large proteins often used to treat autoimmune conditions. These drugs have to be injected into the blood because they disintegrate inside the digestive system, but someday, we might be able to smuggle them right into the digestive tract and inject them from there. [MIT]