Daily insulin injections are a tedious reality for millions of people who have diabetes. But a team of researchers from New York University Abu Dhabi hope to make their lives easier. They have developed a new method for packing insulin into capsules; a very tricky task indeed as insulin is so fragile that it breaks down in the stomach before passing through the intestinal wall to get into the bloodstream.
That said, the main struggle for scientists working on this pill was to find a way to contain insulin so that it survives long enough to regulate the glucose levels of the recipient. Fortunately, they were able to do just that with the creation of what they call gastro-resistant imine-linked-covalent framework nanoparticles (nCOFs). This basically means that the capsules load insulin between nanosheets to protect it from the harsh environment of the stomach.
On top of figuring out a way to preserve insulin throughout its journey to the bloodstream, the researchers were able to devise the nCOFs so that they act as a natural pancreas. Once the nCOFs are in the bloodstream, they automatically monitor the patient’s insulin levels so that the drug is only released when needed. Glucose is such a small molecule that it can fit through the pores in the nCOF. This means that once glucose levels rise, glucose molecules are forced into the nanoparticles, physically dislodging the insulin inside. It will also work the other way around, slowing its insulin release as glucose levels fall again to prevent insulin overdose.
Tests administered to diabetic rats demonstrated the ability of nCOFs to normalize the animals’ blood glucose levels within two hours of consuming the nanoparticle capsules.
More studies are necessary to see whether this will work in humans, but the team is excited about the results and believe that these new developments can potentially make diabetes much easier to manage.