Injections for diabetes, cancer could become unnecessary
PET scan images show orally administered EPP6 accumulated in the intestines and made its way into the brain and bladder through blood circulation. Credit: Min Xue/UCR

Diabetes and cancer patients may be able to forget needles and injections, and instead take pills, thanks to researchers at the University of California, Irvine.

Drugs that are dissolved in water can't be transported through the intestines to get what we eat. Drugs can't be administered by mouth. The UCR scientists have created a chemical that can be added to the drugs to allow them to enter the blood circulation.

In a new Journal of the American Chemical Society paper, the details of how they came to find the tag are described.

"Because they are relatively small, you can attach them to drugs, or other molecule of interest, and use them to deliver those drugs orally," said Min Xue, a chemistry professor at the University of California, Irvine.

The researchers were testing something unrelated when they observed the peptides in the cells.

We didn't expect this to be in cells. It didn't take us by surprise. We always wanted to find a chemical tag like that.

Injections for diabetes, cancer could become unnecessary
Microscopy images show that EPP6 can deliver different types of fluorescent dye molecules into cells. Credit: Min Xue/UCR

Previously, the researchers believed that this type of delivery tag needed to carry positive charges to be accepted. Their work shows that belief wasn't correct.

Kai Chen's group at the University of Southern California and the Xue group fed the peptide to mice to see if it could move through a body. Using a technique similar to a whole-body X-ray that is available at USC, the team observed the peptide accumulating in the intestines and documented its ultimate transfer into the animals' organs.

The team plans to show that the tag can be attached to drugs to help navigate the circulatory systems. Preliminary results make us believe we can push this further.

There are many drugs that need to be injected. The researchers hope their next set of experiments will change that and allow them to add this tag to a wide variety of drugs and chemicals.

The discovery could help people with illness.

The Hydroxyl-Rich Hydrophilic Endocytosis-Promoting Peptide with No Positive Charge was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society. There is a book titled "jacs.2c07420."

Journal information: Journal of the American Chemical Society