You probably didn’t like needles growing up, and you likely would’ve done just about anything to avoid getting stabbed by a doctor while your parents calmly allowed it to happen. Today, even if you don’t mind needles anymore, you’d still choose swallowing a pill over getting a shot — if the option were available — every single time. While that sounds like a pipe dream, that option is being made a reality thanks to researchers at MIT. Unfortunately, that reality involves a pill covered in tiny needles.
Sadly, needle injections are still necessary because the harsh environment of the stomach breaks down certain drugs before they’re given the chance to be absorbed. The solution, developed by researchers at MIT and Massachusetts General Hospital, is a swallowable pill covered in tiny needles that injects the stomach lining with drugs.
The prototype capsule measures in at two centimeters long and just one centimeter wide, and is covered in stainless steel needles that measure about five millimeters long — which sounds like five millimeters too long.
Obviously, swallowing what is essentially tiny razorblades full of drugs could be pretty dangerous. However, during animal testing, the team found that the needle pill delivered drugs more efficiently than a subcutaneous shot, and didn’t cause any damage passing through the digestive system. Interestingly, patients won’t feel any pain once the pill is in the stomach and injecting the lining, as the gastrointestinal tract does not have any pain receptors.
Though animal trials proved fruitful, the team is working on making the tiny needles out of sugar and degradable polymers so they’d break off and embed in the stomach lining. Despite how that sounds, the research team feels that’s an even more optimal route than the stainless steel needles.
It remains to be seen if this type of pill will be released for public consumption, but if anything, this project proves that there are scarier things than a shot in the arm.