This ingestible robot delivers insulin to your body without external needles

The device lives in your abdomen and relies on magnetic capsules for refills.

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PILLSID
Sant'Anna School of Advanced Studies

Researchers from Italy have created a robot that could one day allow diabetes patients to get a dose of insulin without any needles. PILLSID involves two separate parts. One component is an internal insulin dispenser that a doctor would surgically implant in your abdomen. The other is a magnetic capsule loaded with the hormone.

Anytime you need to refill the dispenser, you take one of the pills, and it travels down your digestive system until it reaches the point where the device is implanted near your small intestine. Using the power of magnets, the device rotates the capsule into position and then punctures it with a retractable needle and pumps the refill of insulin into a reservoir. The cool thing here is that the dispenser charges wirelessly, limiting the number of interventions a doctor needs to maintain the device. Once the capsule is empty, it continues its trip down your digestive system until you eventually poop it out. Good times.

On the surface, the system may sound scary, but in a lot of ways, it’s preferable to many of the current tools you can use as a type 1 diabetes patient to regulate your blood sugar levels. Insulin pumps, for instance, involve a tube or needle that you need to self-administer. One jab might not be so bad, but some people need to get multiple injections per day. "Maybe it's scary to think about a docking station inside the body, but it worked," Arianna Menciassi, one of the co-authors of the study, told IEEE Spectrum. Unintuitively, this is a much less intrusive system, and it has the potential to be useful for administering other life-saving drugs.

In a test involving three diabetic pigs, the research team found the system could successfully manage their insulin levels for several hours. In some instances, they found bodily fluids from the pigs would leak into the robot. So as a next step, the team is working on sealing the device better.

While it will likely be some time before PILLSID makes its way to hospitals, devices that attend to your medical needs from inside your body are likely to become more and more common. In 2016, for instance, MIT showed off an origami robot that can pick up objects from inside your intestine.

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