Researchers in Italy have developed a robot that could one day allow diabetics to receive insulin injections without the use of needles.
PILLSID is made up of two distinct parts. An internal insulin dispenser, which a doctor would surgically implant in your abdomen, is one component. The other is a hormone-loaded magnetic capsule.
You take one of the pills whenever you need to refill the dispenser, and it travels down your digestive system until it reaches the point where the device is implanted near your small intestine. The device rotates the capsule into position using magnets, then punctures it with a retractable needle and pumps the insulin refill into a reservoir.
On the surface, the system appears frightening, but in many ways, it is preferable to many of the current tools available to type 1 diabetes patients to regulate their blood sugar levels. Insulin pumps, for example, use a tube or needle that you must self-administer. One injection may not be so bad, but some people require multiple injections per day.
“It may be frightening to think about a docking station inside the body, but it worked,” Arianna Menciassi, one of the study’s co-authors, told IEEE Spectrum. Surprisingly, this is a much less intrusive system that could be useful for administering other life-saving drugs.
The system successfully managed the insulin levels of three diabetic pigs in a test that lasted several hours, according to the research team. Bodily fluids from the pigs were found to leak into the robot in some cases. As a next step, the team is working to improve the device’s sealing.
While it will most likely be some time before PILLSID makes its way into hospitals, devices that address your medical needs from within your body are likely to become more common. In 2016, for example, MIT demonstrated an origami robot that can pick up objects from within your intestine.