Prolific inventor (and possible mad scientist) Mir Imran has just unveiled an invention that could very well revolutionize several sectors of the health industry - a robotic pill designed to replace injectible drugs. The gadget - which is currently in preclinical status - is designed to inject drugs for chronic conditions such as diabetes right into the lining of the stomach, eliminating the need for more traditional forms of injection. If this invention ends up taking off, well...
Syringes might not be a very common sight in hospitals any longer.
The device consists of an ingestible polymer shell which encompasses a number of small, hollow needles made of sugar. The pill - which is completely safe to ingest, of course - is swallowed as normal, at which point it remains in the stomach for a short time. Eventually, as the pH level of its environment builds up, the polymer casing's outer later dissolves, exposing a small valve which separates two chemicals - citric acid and sodium bicarbonate. This valve, on exposure to the acid, mixes the chemicals together to create Carbon Dioxide. This acts as a sort of 'energy source' for the pill, which causes it to gently inflate a balloon-like structure containing the needles and drugs.
These needles are then pushed into the intestinal wall, at which point they lodge there and slowly dissolve as they inject the drug directly into the bloodstream. Since there are no pain receptors in the intestine, this process is completely painless to the patient. According to Mr. Imran - who admits that his invention hasn't yet been tested on humans - the pills can boost drug absorption at least as high as a syringe.
"I am guardedly optimistic, and I say guardedly because there is still a lot of work to do," explained Elliott Sigal, formerly a top executive at drug maker Bristol-Meyers Squibb Co. "Rani's engineering-based approach to this is very innovative. He is getting results that I have not seen before. It hasn't been tried in human patients yet, and things sometimes fail at that level. But if the trials succeed, there will be a great deal of pharma interest."
I want to stress again just how incredible this invention is. Only a few years ago, it would've been absolutely impossible - and downright unthinkable - for such a robot to even exist. Pharmaceutical companies have been wracking their brains for over forty years to make drugs like insulin available in pill form, to no avail - even if the pills are coated with tough enough material to reach the small intestine, they're inevitably attacked and destroyed by the enzymes there, compromising them and preventing significant volumes of the drug from ever reaching the patient.
The startup Imran founded to market his invention - Rani Therapeutics - will spend another year testing his robotic pill, in hopes that it will have definitive clinical data by 2015. Should everything check out, Imran's invention could very well help millions of patients ditch their syringes, while also introducing a new avenue of safe, effective early-stage treatment.
Here's hoping things work out - this invention is just too awesome to fail.