Nanotech oral insulin medication on the horizon

An Australian-led team of researchers has developed a nanotechnology-based system which could deliver insulin orally instead of by injection.

Worldwide an estimated 425 million people live with diabetes and about 75 million inject themselves with insulin daily.

According to the new study in Nature Nanotechnology, the nano-scale material acts like a coating to surround individual insulin molecules. The ‘nano-carrier’ protects and ferries the insulin molecule to the liver, where most insulin secreted by the pancreas normally acts.

Mouse, rat, and baboon animal experiments show the coating only dissolves to release the insulin when blood sugar levels are high. Importantly, this doesn’t occur in low blood sugar environments.

The formulation could avoid the risk of potentially life-threatening hypoglycaemic events – low blood sugar events that can occur when too much insulin is injected.

Dr Nicholas Hunt from the University of Sydney’s School of Medical Sciences, says the development of a safe and effective oral insulin has been a challenge since insulin was discovered more than a century ago.

“A huge challenge that was facing oral insulin development is the low percentage of insulin that reaches the blood stream when given orally or with injections of insulin,” says Hunt.

“To address this, we developed a nano carrier that drastically increases the absorbance of our nano insulin in the gut when tested in human intestinal tissue.”

The insulin is attached to silver sulphide (Ag2S) quantum dots and coated in a polymer made from glucose and chitosan (a sugar made from crustaceans’ chitinous shells).

Human trials are expected to start in 2025 led by the spin out company Endo Axiom

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