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Innovative Suction Cup for Painless Medication Administration Could Replace Injections

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 03 Oct 2023
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Image: The suction cup measures around 10 millimeters in diameter and six millimeters in height (Photo courtesy of Transire Bio)
Image: The suction cup measures around 10 millimeters in diameter and six millimeters in height (Photo courtesy of Transire Bio)

Most medicines in use today are made from large molecules like peptides, which are administered to treat a variety of illnesses such as diabetes, obesity, and prostate cancer. However, these medicines usually cannot be taken as tablets because they either break down in the digestive system or are too large to enter the bloodstream. This leaves patients with the only option of injections. Now, researchers have developed a suction cup that allows these medications to be absorbed through the mucosal lining of the cheeks, offering a pain-free alternative to injections.

The suction cup developed by researchers at ETH Zurich (Zurich, Switzerland) can deliver medications comprising large molecules like peptides through the cheek’s mucosal lining. Usually, this lining is a poor choice for drug delivery due to its dense tissue, especially when it comes to large molecules like peptides. However, this suction cup changes the game by stretching the cheek's mucosal lining and combining it with a penetration-promoting agent that makes the tissue highly permeable to medicines. To use the suction cup, patients need to press it against the lining of their cheek. The cup is about ten millimeters wide and six millimeters tall. Pressing it creates a vacuum, stretching the lining and making it more permeable to the medicine contained in the cup's dome-shaped hollow. Additionally, the researchers added an endogenous agent to the medicine that makes the cell membranes more fluid, allowing the drug to move deeper into the tissue layers. Patients are advised to keep the suction cup in place for a few minutes, long enough for the medicine to dissolve in the saliva and enter the bloodstream through the now permeable mucosal lining.

In contrast to the limited number of peptide-based oral medicines available, this new suction cup method can deliver a variety of medicines without requiring significant technological changes. Finding the right shape for the suction cup was the biggest hurdle. After producing several 3D-printed prototypes and running tests using the mucosal lining of a pig’s cheek, the researchers selected the right penetration-promoting substance by testing various mixtures under a microscope. Following these tests, they conducted trials on dogs, whose cheek mucosal lining closely resembles that of humans, and found the method to be effective. The results from the tests were promising with the suction cup was proving effective in delivering medicine into the dogs' bloodstreams. This was followed by testing the empty suction cup on 40 human volunteers who also provided positive feedback with the cup also staying in place for 30 minutes. Most volunteers expressed that they would much prefer this new method over injections. However, more tests and clinical trials are needed, and there are regulatory hurdles to be cleared before the suction cup can become a market-ready product.

“It’s an entirely new method of delivering medications that could spare millions of people the fear and pain associated with injections,” said Nevena Paunović, who has received one of ETH Zurich’s coveted Pioneer Fellowships.

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