An octopus sucker in the mouth, instead of infusions. In the continuous search for alternative methods for administering drugs, there are those who have taken inspiration, once again, from nature, borrowing the mechanism of its suction cups from the octopus. The research is still in its infancy and adds to the trend of studies in the field which aim to find alternative ways to infusions to ferry large molecules into the body for therapeutic purposes. But it is also interesting because it allows the user to attach it to their cheeks themselves.
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A sucker in the mouth
When you look at it, this suction cup – a patch that sticks firmly to the buccal mucosa – looks like a gummy candy and is the size of a dime. It works by combining the mechanical deformation of the mucosa with the action of some chemical substances capable of increasing the permeability of the mucosa itself. According to the researchers, in fact, as reported in the pages of Science Translational Medicinethe sucker, deforming the mucosa, dilates it, favoring the absorption of the load (housed in what in the sucker of the octopus corresponds to the most apical part, the acetabulum).
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Tests on animals and in humans
The device has so far been tested on the cheeks of dogs, using desmopressin and semaglutide (the anti-diabetic drug also used to lose weight) as drugs. The researchers thus demonstrated that with their suction cup they were able to achieve bioavailability values and plasma concentrations comparable to those of tablets. In fact, the challenge is to be able to develop an effective method for the release of large drugs – such as peptides and proteins -, especially in oral administration, and absorption through the mucosa of the mouth seems to have some advantages. The mouth, in particular the cheek area, is in fact easily accessible, does not have the hostile environment in terms of pH and proteolytic activity of the stomach and is not affected by the metabolism of the liver (with the so-called first pass effect), explain the authors. Furthermore, compared to alternative large drug delivery systems, which use microneedles, the suction cup system appears to be a less complex system.
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This was also perceived by the first volunteers who tried it, although without the drug inside, judging it to be more comfortable on average than any injections. The suction patch remained firmly in the mouth for about half an hour in most patients, without causing any particular discomfort, as they reported. Only one patient found it uncomfortable. “Its simplicity and modularity make this technology potentially suitable for the administration of a wide range of compounds that degrade rapidly or are poorly absorbed in the gastrointestinal tract,” the authors conclude. Who knows if, alongside electronic pills inspired by lizards or capsules inspired by the shell of a turtle, in the future we will also have the suction cups of an octopus as a drug delivery system.