New medicine can create a new life for diabetes patients — without needles!

Key Takeaways

  • Researchers have found a new way to supply the body with insulin.
  • The medication, which can be taken orally, was found to lower blood sugar levels without causing hypoglycemia in baboons.

Scientists have found a new way to supply the body with smart insulin. The new insulin can be eaten by taking a capsule or, even better, within a piece of sugar-free chocolate. Inside these are tiny nano-carriers to which the insulin is encapsulated. “This way of taking insulin is more precise because it delivers the insulin rapidly to the areas of the body that need it most. When you take insulin with a syringe, it is spread throughout the body where it can cause unwanted side effects,” explains Professor Peter McCourt at UiT Norway’s Arctic University, one of the researchers behind the study. The research was recently published in Nature Nanotechnology.

Researchers discovered many years ago that it was possible to deliver medicines via nano-carriers to the liver. McCourt explains that the problem with encapsulating insulin in a nano-carrier is that it breaks down in the stomach and thus does not get to where it is needed in the body. This has been a major challenge for developing a diabetes medicine that can be taken orally.

But now the researchers have solved this challenge. “We have created a coating to protect the insulin from being broken down by stomach acid and digestive enzymes on its way through the digestive system, keeping it safe until it reaches its destination, namely the liver,” says McCourt, who is a liver biologist. The coating is then broken down in the liver by enzymes that are active only when blood sugar levels are high, releasing the insulin where it can then act in the liver, muscle, and fat to remove sugar from the blood. “This means that when blood sugar is high, there is a rapid release of insulin, and even more importantly, when blood sugar is low, no insulin is released,” says Nicholas J. Hunt, who co-led the project.

McCourt explains that this is a more practical and patient-friendly method of managing diabetes because it greatly reduces the risk of a low blood sugar event occurring, namely hypoglycemia, and allows for the controlled released of insulin depending on the patient’s needs, unlike injections where all the insulin is released in one shot. With the new method, there also will be fewer side effects. Another advantage is that this form of insulin does not need to be refrigerated.

The oral insulin has been tested on nematodes, mice, rats and, in the current study, baboons, where it lowered blood sugar. “Trials on humans will start in 2025 led by the spin out company Endo Axiom Pty Ltd,” McCourt says. The researchers hope that the new medicine can be ready for use by patients in 2-3 years.

Source: UiT, the Arctic University of Norway, January 19, 2024; ScienceDaily; see source article