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MIT Unveils Robotic Drug Delivery Capsule Called RoboCap (a great name)

Updated: Feb 24, 2023

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a robotic capsule designed to increase drug absorption by clearing mucus in the gut and depositing drugs directly on the intestinal surface.

The absorption of drugs taken by mouth can be limited by the physical conditions within the gastrointestinal (GI) tract. For example, the intestines are coated in layers of mucus designed to protect the layer of cells that line the intestine – the intestinal epithelium – from colonisation by bacteria. Additionally, epithelial cells are joined by cellular “tight junctions” that regulate the permeability of the epithelium, helping to prevent intestinal contents from leaking into the body.

These physical constraints mean that some drugs are not suitable to be taken as capsules or pills and must be taken parenterally (i.e., not by mouth or through the digestive tract). One example of this is insulin, a peptide hormone taken daily by millions of people with diabetes worldwide to regulate their blood sugar levels. When taken orally, insulin has less than 1% bioavailability, meaning that it must be injected underneath the skin (subcutaneously), which can become a significant burden for these patients.

The motorised robotic capsule is the same size as a large multivitamin pill. It features a “cargo hold” that stores the drug and a gelatinous coating that protects tissue from damage and discomfort after swallowing. Once the RoboCap reaches the stomach, gastric acid degrades the gelatin coating and the pH change after it passes into the small intestine and dissolves a pH-sensitive membrane. This triggers the activation of the RoboCap by closing an electrical circuit within the capsule. Once active, the RoboCap begins to spin. The capsule’s helical surface and studded texture make contact with the plicae (large circular folds of tissue) and villi (microscopic finger-like protrusions) on the intestine’s surface, which churns and clears away the mucus layer. The drug payload is then gradually released in this cleared area with each rotation of the RoboCap, depositing the drug directly onto the intestinal surface.


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