A Novel Insulin Pill Successfully Treated Type-1 Diabetes in Mice

And it worked seven times faster than standard injections.
Derya Ozdemir

A team of Yale University researchers has developed a novel type 1 diabetes oral medicine, and it could open up a potential way to present the disease altogether.

In experiments done on mice, the oral medicine not only swiftly adjusted insulin levels but also restored metabolic functions and reversed inflammatory effects of the disease, basically doing double duty in treating type-1 diabetes, which affects approximately 1.6 million Americans.

The drug has two critical advantages

Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease in which the immune system targets and destroys insulin-producing cells in the pancreas, causing sugar to build up in the bloodstream and blood sugar levels to rise. 

Unfortunately, there’s no cure, so the main treatment options include a low-carb and low-sugar diet combined with daily insulin injections. Many diabetes patients need to take insulin injections every day for the rest of their lives since they lack access to more advanced medical technologies such as insulin pumps.

Taking an oral pill would be much simpler; however, since insulin is destroyed in the stomach before it can reach the bloodstream, engineering an oral pill has been a tricky endeavor. 

The novel medicine has been developed by Tarek Fahmy, associate professor of biomedical engineering and of immunobiology at Yale, and according to the study published in Nature Biomedical Engineering, it offers two major advantages over normal diabetic treatment.

First of all, since it can be taken orally, it’s considerably easier for the patient to keep compliant with their treatment. Also, it addresses three major issues with diabetes at the same time by helping control immediate blood glucose levels, restoring pancreatic function, and re-establishing normal immunity in the pancreatic environment.

A two-pronged approach to diabetes

“What excites me about this is that it’s a two-pronged approach,” Fahmy said, in a press release. “It's facilitating normal metabolism as well as correcting immune defects in the long term. So you actually are curing the disease while you are maintaining insulin levels at the same time.”

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This was made possible with the scientists creating a novel nanoparticle drug vehicle that securely transports insulin to the pancreas. It's made of ursodeoxycholic acid, a bile acid produced naturally in the body that the researchers polymerized. This allows it to better bind to pancreatic receptors, boosting metabolic activities, and reducing the immune cells that destroy beta cells in the first place.

When this was tested in mice with type 1 diabetes, it was discovered that the cargo of the particles improved insulin levels while nanoparticles reduced inflammation and restored metabolic function. It was also seen that insulin delivered through oral capsules worked approximately seven times faster than insulin delivered via standard subcutaneous injection. 

Similar promising results were also reported in tests on pigs; however, additional research is needed to determine whether humans might benefit in the same way. The nanoparticles could also be employed to transport other compounds, perhaps aiding in the treatment of other ailments.

"The potential is enormous for diabetes and other disease states as well," Fahmy said. "I am hopeful that this technical development will be leveraged in the development of urgent solutions to what are presently difficult challenges in autoimmunity, cancer, allergies and infections."

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