Most of us are familiar with the self-righting movement of tortoises and turtles—it’s a display that serves as entertainment for some, and wonder for others, but for Alex Abramson, it served as inspiration for a new drug delivery system for insulin and other biologic drugs. He has engineered an ingestible, self-orienting pill that is designed to deliver tiny injections in the stomach wall, thereby removing the need for subcutaneous injections such as those that diabetics have to self-administer. How does it work? Once the pill is swallowed, it is designed to land at the bottom of the stomach within five minutes and orient itself toward the tissue wall where the drug needs to be delivered. Equipped with a hydration-based actuator, the pill senses the humidity of the stomach environment and inserts a drug-loaded post directly into the stomach tissue with a needle less than one millimeter in diameter. The post then dissolves and allows for systemic uptake comparable to subcutaneous injection.
Abramson is a Ph.D. candidate in chemical engineering at MIT, and for the past four years, he’s been working closely with Novo Nordisk, the pharmaceutical company that has sponsored this project. The project has been published, multiple studies using large animal models have been completed, and they are looking to bring the product into clinical trials within the next two years. Among other topics, Abramson joins the podcast to discuss how the shape and density distribution of the pill was inspired by the shape and density distribution of self-righting tortoises, what prevents perforation of stomach tissue with injection, why the sensor was designed to detect humidity rather than acidity, and the many benefits of this system of drug delivery that you probably haven’t even thought of.
Tune in for all the details, and follow this link https://youtu.be/w7UTwEPYD4M to watch a video on how exactly the pill works.