A robotic mucus-absorbing pill may offer a new way to deliver medication.
The multivitamin-sized device houses a motor and cargo bay for medications, including those typically given by injection or intravenously, such as insulin and some antibiotics. If people could take such drugs orally, they could avoid daily injections or a hospital stay, which would be “a huge game changer,” says MIT biomedical engineer Shriya Srinivasan.
But drugs that enter the body through the mouth face a rough ride. They encounter churning stomach acid, raging digestive enzymes, and sticky smears of mucus in the gut. Intestinal mucus “acts like jelly,” says Srinivasan. The sticky substance can trap drug particles, preventing them from entering the bloodstream.
The new device, called RoboCap, eliminates this problem. The pill uses shallow grooves, tacks and torpedo-inspired fins to remove intestinal mucus like a miniature brush spinning inside a bottle. In experiments with pigs, RoboCap tunneled through the mucus that lines the walls of the small intestinedepositing insulin or the IV antibiotic vancomycin along the way, Srinivasan and colleagues report September 28 in Robotic Science. After churning for about 35 minutes, the pill continued its journey through the intestine and eventually exited the body.
RoboCap is the ultimate pill-like device made to be swallowed. In 2019, some of the same researchers who developed RoboCap came up with a different device, one that injects drugs by puncturing the inside of the stomach (Serial number: 2/7/19). That pea-sized injector wasn’t designed to work in the small intestine, where some drugs are more easily absorbed. The RoboCap can also deliver larger drug payloads, says Srinivasan.