Inspired by his father’s struggles with injecting insulin for 15 years, Dr. Anubhav Pratap Singh of the University of British Columbia led a study with rats and came up with an experimental insulin pill that is made up of the thin membrane found in the back of the lips and the inner lining of the cheek. This pill can easily be absorbed by type 1 diabetes patients through their cheeks.
Traditionally people suffering from type 1 diabetes have to inject themselves with insulin multiple times a day, especially before meals, in comparison to this a tablet is much more convenient and easier to ingest, and this particular one can easily break down between the gum and the cheek. This comfort factor especially makes the pill a desirable treatment option.
There have been previous attempts to come up with drinkable insulin but unfortunately, most of the ingested drug would end up as buildup in the stomach. This, however, has not been a concern with the tablets that were given to the rats in the study.
“It was noted that even after a couple of hours of consuming the insulin, there was no build-up in the stomachs of the rats, instead all the insulin was exactly where it should have been, that is the liver,” said Ph.D. candidate at the University of British Columbia and study co-author Yigong Guo.
When comparing their experimental pill for insulinl to other available alternatives, Guo further explained how 100iu of injected insulin is usually needed by patients per shot, and for other pills in the market around 500iu of insulin is needed and even then the consumed insulin does not end up where it is needed and eventually accumulates in the stomach.
Moreover, the developed therapy takes around half an hour to two hours for ingested insulin to fully release itself in the body, on the other hand, insulin tablets may take twice as much time, they release at fairly slower rates and may take as long as four hours. In this way, experiment for the insulin pill tested on rats yielded some important results, the hope is that these can be replicated in humans as well.
Insulin in pill forms also has environmental benefits, type 1 diabetes is known to produce a lot of environmental waste in the form of needles and syringes which are not likely to be recycled, insulin pills can successfully mitigate this concern.
Since it is cheaper and easier to make insulin this way, it is also expected that this method of production will reduce the cost of insulin per dose. It is also less challenging to store and transport insulin pills as compared to other forms of it, which adds to the comfort benefit of this drug.
With over 9 million people worldwide suffering from type 1 diabetes, the market for the drug is significant and has the potential to help a large number of people. For the researchers the next target in the study is to conduct similar tests on humans and try to duplicate the results, however, this is not always an easy task.