In a recent study published in Science Robotics, a team of researchers led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a robotic drug capsule, which they dub “RoboCap”, designed to deliver large proteins such as insulin and small-molecule drugs to the digestive tract. The capsule is designed to spina and tunnel through the mucus barrier upon reaching the small intestine, which allows the capsule’s drugs to pass into the intestine’s cell linings. This study holds the potential to improve drug delivery to speed up delivery of potentially life-saving drugs through the mucus barrier, which has traditionally proven difficult.
"By displacing the mucus, we can maximize the dispersion of the drug within a local area and enhance the absorption of both small molecules and macromolecules," said Dr. Giovanni Traverso, the Karl van Tassel Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT and a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women's Hospital, and a co-author on the study.
For the last several years, Dr. Traverso’s lab has been creating strategies for orally administering drugs such as insulin, but have experienced roadblocks, specifically dealing with the drugs being broken down within the digestive tract’s acidic environment, along with difficulty getting through the mucus barrier than lines the tract.
To conquer these roadblocks, Dr. Shriya Srinivasan, lead author of the study, and a research affiliate at MIT's Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research and a junior fellow at the Society of Fellows at Harvard University, devised a strategy of designing a protective capsule capable of tunneling through mucus similar to how boring machines drill into rocks and soils.
"I thought that if we could tunnel through the mucus, then we could deposit the drug directly on the epithelium," said Dr. Srinivasan. "The idea is that you would ingest this capsule and the outer layer would dissolve in the digestive tract, exposing all these features that start to churn through the mucus and clear it."
As RoboCap spins from the change in acidity within the body, this motion also erodes the compartment that’s carrying the drug, allowing for greater delivery within the digestive tract.
"What the RoboCap does is transiently displace the initial mucus barrier and then enhance absorption by maximizing the dispersion of the drug locally," said Dr. Traverso. "By combining all of these elements, we're really maximizing our capacity to provide the optimal situation for the drug to be absorbed."
Sources: Science Robotics
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