Researchers create oral insulin drop as pain-free drug delivery method for diabetics

Diabetics who depend on insulin injections are one step closer to an alternative, pain-free method of getting those life-saving drugs.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia say they’ve created a new delivery method for diabetics to be able to manage their disease. Oral drops containing a mix of insulin and a “unique cell-penetrating peptide (CPP),” sourced from fish byproducts, have undergone pre-clinical testing, with those behind the study saying they show promising results.

The drops are placed under the tongue and are “quickly and efficiently absorbed by the body, potentially replacing the need for insulin injections,” researchers at the Li Lab say.

Challenges with insulin injections

People usually get insulin naturally from the pancreas to regulate glucose levels. However, experts note people with diabetes can’t produce enough insulin, and therefore need to get it from another source. Generally, injections are the fastest way to get insulin into the blood, with patients typically needing multiple injections per day.

This can create challenges for people to adhere to this treatment, with complications like eye, kidney, and nerve damage possible over time, potentially leading to limb amputations.

Researchers hope a needle-free alternative to insulin delivery could help people keep up with their medications regularly.

“Insulin is a complicated molecule,” explained lead researcher Dr. Shyh-Dar Li, a professor in the faculty of pharmaceutical sciences. “In pill form, it’s easily destroyed in the stomach. Insulin also needs to be rapidly available in the blood, but as a large molecule, it cannot get through cells easily on its own.”

Li says the peptide in the oral drops “opens a pathway for insulin to cross over,” noting without the peptide, the insulin gets stuck in the lining of the mouth.

Dr. Jiamin Wu, a postdoctoral researcher in the Li Lab, likens the peptide to a “guide that helps insulin navigate through a maze to reach the bloodstream quickly.”

“This guide finds the best routes, making it easier for insulin to get where it needs to go,” Wu added.

Other benefits to oral insulin drops

According to Li, the lab at UBC has been working on a needle-free alternative to insulin delivery for three years. Through that time, other methods were studied.

“We tried nasal sprays before landing on oral drops, which are easy and convenient. Hopefully, the oral drops open up a new possibility for diabetes patients – making it easier to take their medications and regulate their blood glucose to maintain their health in the long run,” Li explained.

Need-free technology also comes with other benefits, researchers say, adding the risk of cross-contamination, needle pricks, and infection decreases with the oral method.

They point out two inhalable insulin products were previously approved. However, they were then withdrawn after “suboptimal” effects were recorded, and after the products were “shown to increase the risk of lung cancer development,” they add.

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