Get to the site of a problem, pack a big punch at the right time, and leave everywhere else alone. That’s what drugs of the future will have to do. Now, a Jello-like substance is giving patients a peek at that approach.
Researchers have created a gel that can attach to inflammation sites and slowly deliver drugs to combat a wide variety of ailments—ulcerative colitis, arthritis and mucositis, to name a few. Inflammation is part of the body’s immune response, bringing extra blood to an injured area, but in cases of chronic inflammation, the heat, pain, and swelling become a problem. Developed at the Laboratory for Accelerated Medical Innovation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the hydrogel—a solid material with high water content—can carry a combination of drugs, and matches its drug release to the level of inflammation around it.
When the gel is injected into the joint of an arthritis patient, for example, it will only release its anti-inflammatory payload when the patient is experiencing a flare, a spike in pain and swelling. When it encounters healthy tissue, it stays intact and does not release its payload.
“There are lots of enzymes present in inflammation that can degrade the gel,” explains Jeff Karp, the principal investigator. That breakdown of the gel releases the drug it carries.