Do you and your pet hate needles? Rani Therapeutics is developing a robotic pill that may replace injectable medications. Currently, many medicines must be injected into the body to be effective. Insulin is a great example. If given in pill form, the digestive enzymes break down insulin, rendering it useless. To combat this, medications are placed in capsules or coated to protect them from stomach acid. Unfortunately, this approach does not work for many medications including insulin and the osteoarthritis treatment, polysulfated glycosaminoglycan. Mir Imran, the inventor behind Rani Therapeutics, hopes to change this with a robotic pill that injects medicine into the intestinal wall.
The technology behind this pill is amazing. Needles made of sugar are preloaded with medicine. These ‘sweet’ needles are placed inside a capsule that will dissolve in the intestine, not the stomach. When the outer surface dissolves, it exposes a valve that controls two mini compartments inside the pill. One contains citric acid while the other contains sodium bicarbonate. When the valve opens, carbon dioxide is formed from the two compounds. The gas increases the pressure within the capsule, driving the sugar needles into the wall of the intestine. Since the first layer or mucosa does not contain pain receptors, the patient gets the medicine without the pain of an injection. Eventually, the needles will dissolve and the rest of the pill is eliminated in the feces.
I have to caution that this technology is still in its infancy and remains in the research phase. It is not yet in clinics or even human trials. However, it has the joint benefits of being a potentially remarkable breakthrough in drug delivery and it is also really cool. Here is a link to the story in the Wall Street Journal.
Hay, Timothy, “Can ‘Robotic’ Pills Replace Injections? Mir Imran, With Google Backing, Hopes to Change Treatment of Conditions Like Diabetes”, Technology Section, The Wall Street Journal, Feb. 18, 2014.