Smart Hydrogel Delivers Medicine On Demand
January 16, 2014

Smart Hydrogels Deliver Medicine On Demand

Rebekah Eliason for – Your Universe Online

A new study from the University of Delaware has led to the development of a 'smart' hydrogel that is capable of delivering medicine based on response to mechanical force.

For the last several decades, many hydrogels have been created that release medicine in response to pH, temperature, DNA, light and other stimuli. Xinqiao Jia, UD professor of materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering said, “The idea of a smart hydrogel that can release medicine over time is not new. What’s new is our ability to have medicine released in response to force — a major challenge for people with osteoarthritis and other ‘wear and tear’ injuries that compromise a person’s ability to perform everyday activities.”

According to the Arthritis Foundation, osteoarthritis is a chronic condition which affects approximately 27 million Americans. The disease causes soreness or stiffness of the joints that follows inactivity or overuse along with pain that increases after activity or throughout the day.

In this study, researchers developed a hyaluronic acid-based hydrogel. They theorized that if this material was injected into an injured joint site that the motion of walking or participating in therapeutic exercise would cause accelerated release of the drug inside the hydrogel. This method of delivery would help to reduce inflammation and pain.

In laboratory conditions, the researchers determined that the UD-developed hydrogel effectively releases the encapsulated drugs when it is compressed. Through preliminary cell testing, they were also able to confirm that the released drug molecules show anti-inflammatory activity.

The research team is now working alongside colleagues at Rush University in Chicago to begin tests of the hydrogels in animals. The early findings suggest that the gel is biocompatible. Jia explained this is due to the fact that hyaluronic acid naturally occurs in cartilage, which makes the substance more readily accepted by the body.

She also believes that this new hydrogel could help with more conditions than osteoarthritis, such as ligament tears and other high tension injury areas.

“I have even considered whether we can leverage this hydrogel platform to reduce inflammation in patients with vocal fold disorders,” Jia said.

The team plans to continue this research by investigating whether other forms of the hydrogel could be made with properties to stimulate tissue regeneration and repair.

Collaborators from UD who worked on this project included, Darrin Pochan, professor of materials science and engineering; Chandran Sabanayagam, an associate scientist at the Delaware Biotechnology Institute; and Longxi Xiao and Zhixiang Tong, Jia’s former students, and Yingchao Chen, a current student. This study was published in Biomacromolecules, a publication of the American Chemical Society (ACS).