A Mumbai-born scientist’s invention of a turtle-shaped pill may wipe out injectables

Vaccines, like the RNA vaccines used to protect against COVID-19, are mostly given with needles, which many of us aren’t entirely comfortable with. Now, however, MIT scientists have developed a specially shaped pill that could deliver this vaccine by simply swallowing it.


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The thing about RNA vaccines is that their components can be very sensitive to degradation, especially in the digestive tract. To ensure that the vaccine components were not broken down in the digestive tract, the researchers developed a pill inspired by the shape of the leopard tortoise’s shell.

The pill was originally developed in 2019 for administering drugs such as insulin into the stomach lining. However, in 2021 they decided to test it to deliver large molecules like monoclonal antibodies in liquid form and later tried to deliver nucleic acids – both successful.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Ameya Kirtane, explained in the study that the particles that make up the pill are made of a type of polymer called poly (beta-amino ester). Previous work by the MIT team showed that branched variants of these polymers are more effective than linear ones at protecting nucleic acids and infusing them into cells. They also found that using two of these polymers together worked better than just one.

They tested this pill on pigs, each of which was offered three pills, each containing 50 micrograms of mRNA to trick the cells into producing a type of protein for the purposes of the test.

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To put things in perspective, Pfizer’s popular COVID vaccine contains just 30 micrograms of mRNA. The researchers then analyzed to see the absorption and processing of the test protein. They found that he had managed to develop it in the stomach but not in other organs.

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Study author Dr. However, Alex Abramson explained that this might be enough for the pill to work as an oral vaccine. “There are many immune cells in the gastrointestinal tract, and stimulating the immune system of the gastrointestinal tract is a known way to elicit an immune response.”

Abramson hopes that this treatment can also help cure gastrointestinal problems in the future: “When you get systemic administration through intravenous injection or subcutaneous injection, it’s not very easy to reach the stomach. We see it as a potential way to treat various diseases of the gastrointestinal tract.”

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