Study: Pill That Prevents Gut Absorption May One Day Reverse Diabetes

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By : Suvarna Sheth

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Harvard reported promising results of a preclinical study in which a drug, coating the intestines, prevented nutrients, like glucose, from being absorbed by the body.

This could mean that one day, someone with type 2 diabetes could take a pill before eating, and prevent glucose from ever making contact with their intestinal lining.  The lack of absorption would stop the culprit for diabetes — right in its track.

“I believe the drug can have a role in the treatment of type 2 diabetes,” says, Dr. Ali Tavakkoli, one of the lead researchers, a bariatric surgeon and co-director of the Brigham’s Center for Weight Management and Metabolic Surgery.  “It is an agent that has no systemic absorption and works locally on the intestine by forming a transient barrier.”

Tavakkoli notes the nature of the agent could provide advantages over other therapeutic approaches.  “This could be a great option for patients who do not qualify for bariatric surgery and are struggling with type 2 diabetes,” he says, “as well as those at higher risk of bariatric surgery who do not wish to proceed with the operation.”

The team of researchers used an FDA-approved drug, sucralfate, that is used in the treatment of gastrointestinal ulcers to line the intestine.  The drug was engineered into a new material that can coat the lining of the intestine without requiring activation by gastric acid.

The engineered product, called Luminal Coating of the Intestine (LuCI), can be made into a pill form.

It was found that once LuCI was inside the intestines of rats, it was able to coat the gut, forming a thin barrier that alters nutrient contact and lowers blood glucose response after a meal.

One hour after LuCI was administered to the rats, the response to glucose was lowered by 47 percent. The effect was temporary, lasting only three hours.

The team will now test the effect of short- and long-term use of LuCI in rats that are obese and have diabetes.  They also plan to advance some of their pilot studies showing that LuCI can be used to deliver drugs, including proteins directly to the gastrointestinal tract.

As far as when this could be an approved treatment, it is currently difficult to predict approval timelines which can take anything from 5-10 years.  “LuCI, however, is based on a drug that is already FDA approved and has a long track record of safety,” Tavakkoli points out.  “We hope this may expedite the development pathway,” he adds.


  1. Yuhan Lee, Tara E. Deelman, Keyue Chen, Dawn S. Y. Lin, Ali Tavakkoli, Jeffrey M. Karp. Therapeutic luminal coating of the intestineNature Materials, 2018; DOI: 1038/s41563-018-0106-5
  1. Brigham and Women’s Hospital. (2018, June 11). ‘Surgery in a pill’ a potential treatment for diabetes. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 14, 2018 from