Gel can make drugs last longer

Gell prevents premature drug release in the body, allowing for long-term drug delivery and reducing the side-effects from frequent drug administration

The IBN researchers who developed the new drug-delivering hydrogel for the treatment of hepatitis C. From right: Dr Motoichi Kuriswa, Dr Ki Hyun Bae, Dr Keming Xu and Mr Fan Lee

Researchers at the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) of A*STAR have developed a drug-delivering hydrogel to treat chronic diseases such as hepatitis C.

The standard treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections includes a weekly injection of a protein drug called PEGylated interferon. The frequent injections increase patient discomfort, are time-consuming and can cause depression and fatigue.

Previously, it had not been possible to use hydrogels to deliver drugs with long-term efficacy because controlling the drug release rate is difficult. Most hydrogels have a porous structure, which causes the encapsulated drugs to leak prematurely and be eliminated rapidly from the body.

'The new gel from IBN prevents premature drug release in the body. This allows for long-term drug delivery and reduces the side-effects from frequent drug administration. We hope that our solution can improve the treatment and well-being of patients suffering from chronic diseases such as hepatitis C,’ said IBN Executive Director. Professor Jackie Y. Ying.

The researchers led by IBN Team Leader and Principal Research Scientist, Dr Motoichi Kurisawa, have found a way to regulate the drug release rate and duration by creating a gel with 3D microscopic structures of polyethylene glycol (PEG).

These microscopic structures function as a reservoir for the PEGylated interferon drugs, because of the presence of the PEG compound on the drugs. This property prevents the contents from leaking prematurely. The drugs will also flow in and out of the many reservoirs in the gel before it is released out to the body. This helps to slow down the drug diffusion rate.

The study by the IBN researchers showed that a one-time administration of the hydrogel containing the PEGylated interferon medication was as effective as eight injections of the medication alone, and that the effect of the drugs can last up to two months. The hydrogels will degrade naturally and be eliminated from the body once the drugs are fully released.

‘Our hydrogels can significantly extend the half-life of hepatitis C drugs by up to 10 times longer than current treatment. This work improves the therapeutic efficiency of the drugs, while reducing the need for frequent injections,’ said Dr Kurisawa.

The study was recently published in the journal Biomaterials, and was conducted in collaboration with the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of A*STAR.

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