Syracuse University chemist Robert Doyle has taken out a patent on something that has long been a Holy Grail for insulin suppliers and users: a reliable way to take insulin orally instead of with a needle.
The problem with oral administration has always been that insulin molecules get torn to shreds in the acidic confines of the stomach. Even if some of the insulin remains intact, the bloodstream has a hard time absorbing it from the intestine.
Doyle’s medium is simple: chewing gum containing insulin that has been chemically bound to vitamin B12. It turns out that B12 has a sort of hall pass, a salivary protein called haptocorrin, that protects it in the mouth and stomach. When it reaches the intestine, another chemical takes over to help the vitamin enter the bloodstream.
By having insulin “hitch a ride” with vitamin B12, it can arrive intact and at high potency. Using chewing gum as the delivery mechanism encourages the production of protective haptocorrin, and the process is certainly painless compared to traditional needles.
An article in New Scientist magazine about Doyle’s patent includes a link to his patent application.