Hydrogel May Boost Chronic Disease Treatment

Hydrogel prevents drugs from prematurely leaving the body.

Hydrogel prevents drugs from prematurely leaving the body.

A new system for the delivery of drugs may provide a powerful new tool for the treatment of chronic diseases.

A study published recently in the journal Biomaterials in collaboration with the Institute of Molecular and Cell Biology of A*STAR evaluated a drug-delivering hydrogel for chronic conditions such as hepatitis C.

"The new gel from IBN prevents premature drug release in the body,” said A*STAR Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology Executive Director Jackie Y. Ying in a press release. “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.”

Besides high cost new drugs for the condition that can be difficult for patients to gain access to due to stringent treatment restrictions, standard hepatitis C therapy currently can include weekly injections of PEGylated interferon, which carries side effects such as flu-like symptoms, depression, and fatigue.

It was not previously feasible to use hydrogels for drug delivery with long-term efficacy because of difficulties in moderating the drug release rate. This is due to the porous structure of hydrogels, which can cause encapsulated drugs to prematurely leak before rapidly leaving the body.

Researchers discovered a method to regulate the drug release rate and duration through a gel with 3D microscopic structures of a compound called polyethylene glycol (PEG), which serves as a reservoir for PEGylated interferon.

The compound prevents contents from prematurely leaking and allows drugs to flow in and out of the gel reservoirs before being released out to the body to slow down the drug diffusion rate.

The study found that a single administration of the hydrogel with PEGylated interferon matches the efficacy of 8 interferon injections alone, with the effect of the drugs lasting up to 2 months.

Furthermore, the hydrogels naturally degrade and are eliminated from the body after the drugs have been fully released.

"Our hydrogels can significantly extend the half-life of hepatitis C drugs by up to 10 times longer than current treatment,” Dr Kurisawa said. “Half-life is the time taken for the amount of drugs in the body to be reduced by half, and is a standard indicator of the duration of drug action. This work improves the therapeutic efficiency of the drugs, while reducing the need for frequent injections.”