Most patients suffering from diabetes would prefer a pill than the painful injections many endure.
Medicines such as insulin cannot be swallowed as they get broken down by the acid in the stomach before they can be effective.
Engineers at Purdue University in the US have created a new class of non-toxic materials that could revolutionise drug delivery. They presented their results at the American Chemical Society meeting in Washington DC on Wednesday.
The new materials are formed from tiny microspheres, one hundredth of the width of a human hair. The microscopic balls are similar to the substances found in the superabsorbent filling of disposable nappies.
Professor Nicholas Peppas, who produced the material with Petr Bures and David Henthorn, said: "These microspheres may be used to absorb a lot of water as is the case of a superabsorbent material, or to release drugs, if such drugs are incorporated into the system."
The spheres can protect the medicines from the harsh environment in the stomach allowing them to reach the intestine where they can be absorbed.