News of Note—A capsule for delivering insulin; expanding gene testing in pancreatic cancer

Insulin in a pill?
The quest to develop oral insulin for patients with Type 1 diabetes has been an arduous one, because the hormone can be destroyed by stomach acid and it’s not easily absorbed from the intestine. Engineers at Harvard believe they’ve come up with a potential solution to that problem: an insulin formulation with a special polymer coating. First they figured out how to put insulin into a formula containing choline and geranic acid. Then they encapsulated it in an acid-resistant coating that doesn’t start to dissolve until it reaches the intestine. They are planning animal tests of the pill, which they described in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. (Release)

Discovery of 6 pancreatic cancer mutations sparks call for more gene testing

Scientists at the Mayo Clinic have discovered six inherited gene mutations that raise the risk of pancreatic cancer, including BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are more commonly associated with breast and ovarian cancers. They made the discovery by sequencing the genes of more than 3,000 pancreatic cancer patients and 123,000 people without the disease. They found the mutations in 5.5% of all pancreatic cancer patients, which included 5.2% of patients with no family history of the disease, they reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They believe the finding justifies expanding gene testing to all pancreatic cancer patients—not just those with a family history of the disease. (Release)

Reversing damage from brain injuries
A brain molecule called N-acetylaspartate (NAA) is known to decline in people with brain diseases or injuries. But the function of NAA was never fully understood. Now scientists at the University of Pennsylvania have shown that NAA prevents the protein amyloid-beta from folding or clumping together and forming plaques. Amyloid plaques have been found in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients, and the misfolding of amyloid has been observed in brain injuries. The researchers believe that restoring NAA to normal levels could be an effective way of treating brain injuries and diseases like Alzheimer’s. (Release)