Scientists from the National Tsing Hua University in Taiwan have been trying to develop an insulin pill to replace daily injections.
The team have developed a coating for insulin pills from a chemical found in shrimp cells. This ‘nanoshell’ is able to protect the medication from being destroyed by stomach acid. Previously, insulin pills, which are protein based, have been destroyed upon reaching the stomach, rendering them ineffective. With a protective shell, the insulin would potentially be able to pass through the stomach to the small intestine, where it can be absorbed and used by the body.
When tested on rats with diabetes who had fasted for 12 hours, the new insulin pills significantly lowered their blood glucose levels. However, in order for the insulin to be effective, very high doses were required.
“This research into oral insulin treatment is interesting and we welcome any advance which could improve the lives of people with diabetes in the future,” commented Libby Dowling, Care Advisor at Diabetes UK.
"At this stage the medication has only been tested on rats, at a time when they hadn't eaten for 12 hours. We would like to see further results of how the medication might affect people with diabetes who are eating a normal diet.
"Also, the research indicates that a large quantity of medication is needed in order to lower blood glucose levels. We would welcome further studies looking at making the medication more efficient and establishing its suitability for use in all insulin users."
There are currently 700,000 people in the UK who take insulin injections, sometimes up to four times a day. Being able to take insulin orally would have a great impact on the quality of life of many people with diabetes.