Robotic pill could improve drug delivery

Story at a glance

  • Some types of drugs are not effective as oral treatments and must be given as shots, like insulin.

  • New technology that involves a tiny motor in a pill might make oral drug delivery possible for more drugs.

  • The pill, called RoboCap, was tested in pigs.

In the future, diabetes patients could swallow their insulin treatments instead of having to give themselves shots. This could be made possible by innovative research into small pills that are designed to deliver drugs in the gut.

In a paper published in Science Robotics, an interdisciplinary team out of Massachusetts details the development of RoboCap, a robotic capsule that can burrow past mucus in the intestines to deliver drugs. This device could help drugs get absorbed better and could be an alternative to taking drugs intravenously through shots.

This pill includes a mini-motor, which powers the device so that it will spin. The spinning helps the capsule to twist and turn through layers of mucus in the small intestine. After about 30 minutes, the pill passes through the system.

The team tested this with vancomycin, used to treat bacterial infections, and insulin in pigs. RoboCap was able to deliver drugs with 20 to 40 times better bioavailability, or how well the body absorbs the drugs, when tested in a laboratory setting and in live pigs.

They also found that RoboCap was able to disperse the drugs over a larger surface area in the gut than the control methods. Permeability into tissues was also two times better with the robotic capsule.

The team plans to try this new technology with other types of drugs and will continue working to improve the design of the capsule. Getting this type of technology to patients would depend on future work to validate safety and efficacy.

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