Pill coated with tiny needles may replace injections

BOSTON, Oct. 1 (UPI) —

A team of scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology claim to have good news for patients squeamish about receiving medicine via a shot in the arm. MIT researchers have developed a pill covered in tiny needles that lightly prick the digestive tract and allow the medicine to be quickly absorbed through the lining of the stomach.

In a recent study, researchers at MIT and Mass General tested the pill on animals and found the technique delivered insulin more effectively than an under-the-skin injection. Of course, most medicine — especially the over-the-counter variety — is already taken orally. But some drugs contain proteins that are broken down by stomach acid before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream.

"This could be a way that the patient can circumvent the need to have an infusion or subcutaneous administration of a drug," Giovanni Traverso, study author and MIT researcher, explained in a press release.

Surveys suggest patients prefer to take drugs orally, although it’s not clear whether that preference would change once the drugs are covered in spikes. But this new study shows a pill covered in needles, however horrifying it sounds, might just work better than anything else. After all, the stomach and intestines are designed to absorb compounds efficiently — it’s their main job.

"The kinetics are much better, and much faster-onset, than those seen with traditional under-the-skin administration," Traverso said. "For molecules that are particularly difficult to absorb, this would be a way of actually administering them at much higher efficiency."

Researchers plan to continue tinkering with the design specifics of the pill and accompanying microneedles — perhaps creating the tiny pins out of degradable polymers — before they try to technique on humans.

The study was published this week in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences.