Many people have a fear of needles. The fear is mainly due to the pain experienced while getting injected and the bruising that happens as a result of repeated injections. Now, scientists have created an alternative drug delivery method to injections in the form of live bacteria oral delivery.

The study was led by researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Some chronic conditions like rheumatoid arthritis require lifelong injections for their management. But fear of needles, infection risk and pain associated with injections can deter people from keeping up with the injection schedule.

“People don’t like to have injections for the rest of their lives,” co-corresponding author Dr. Christine Beeton, professor of integrative physiology at Baylor, said, SciTechDaily reported. “In the current work, we explored the possibility of using the probiotic bacteria Lactobacillus reuteri as a novel oral drug delivery platform to treat rheumatoid arthritis in an animal model.”

Prior to this study, Beeton and his team had found a peptide, derived from sea anemone toxin that was safe and effective at reducing disease severity in rat models of rheumatoid arthritis as well as patients with plaque psoriasis. “However, peptide treatment requires repeated injections, reducing patient compliance, and direct oral delivery of the peptide has low efficacy,” Beeton said.

To solve this conundrum, Beeton approached Dr. Robert A. Britton, professor of molecular virology and microbiology and member of the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor. Britton had expertise in developing genetically modified probiotic bacteria that could be used to release compounds.

In the current study, the team bioengineered the probiotic L. reuteri to secrete peptide ShK-235 derived from sea anemone toxin.

But why L. reuteri ?

These bacteria are indigenous to human and other animal guts. One of the lactic acid bacteria groups, it has been used as a cell factory in the food industry for a long time. It is also considered safe by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Moreover, L. reuteri has been shown to be safe in infants, children, adults, and even in immunosuppressed individuals.

“Another reason we chose L. reuteri is that these bacteria do not remain in the gut permanently. They are removed as the gut regularly renews its inner surface layer to which the bacteria attach,” Beeton said, according to the outlet. “This opens the possibility for regulating treatment administration.”

In the study, bacteria LrS235 and the peptide ShK-235 it secreted were tracked inside the animal model. Feeding rats live LrS235 that releases ShK-235 led to the detection of ShK-235 in the blood, the study found.

“The results are encouraging,” Beeton said. “Daily delivery of these peptide-secreting bacteria, called LrS235, dramatically reduced clinical signs of disease, including joint inflammation, cartilage destruction and bone damage in an animal model of rheumatoid arthritis.”

The study provides an alternative drug delivery method that can be applied to other drugs for the treatment of chronic inflammatory diseases.

“These bacteria could be stored in capsules that can be kept on the kitchen counter,” Beeton said. “A patient could take the capsules when on vacation without the need of refrigeration or carrying needles and continue treatment without the inconvenience of daily injections.”