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Sticky gel breakthrough in colitis treatment

New system delivers drugs in the right place at the right time

Mark Gould

Thursday, 13 August 2015

A US team has developed a hydrogel that attaches to lesions caused by ulcerative colitis and slowly releases a drug to help treat them. Writing in the journal Science Translational Medicine*, the researchers say the gel sticks to affected tissue and delivers medicine in the right place and over the right time period.

They say this new method will drastically reduce the need for daily enema delivered treatments and make treatment a less unpleasant experience. Ulcerative colitis is the most common form of inflammatory bowel disease. But patients complain they often have to rely on medicine given by enema, which can be uncomfortable, messy and inconvenient, while oral medicines are often broken down before they reach the affected area.

Delivering the drug more directly through an enema - which has to be done regularly - can also be difficult and inconvenient for patients.

The US researchers took a gel called ascorbyl plamitate, which is safe and already approved for use in humans.

In tests in mice and on bowel tissue from patients with the disease, the gel was shown to selectively attach to areas of inflammation.

The gel could also be loaded with a corticosteroid drug used to treat inflammation.

They designed the drugs to be held in place until the gel was broken down by enzymes present in inflamed tissue.

Experiments showed the drug was released at sites of inflammation and, in mice, could be given every other day rather than daily.

The team also used lower concentrations of the drug in the bloodstream compared with traditional enemas so reducing the exposure - and possible side-effects - in other areas of the body.

Study leader Dr Jeff Karp, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, said the next step was to test a different drug commonly used in the clinic and if that went well, to start trials in humans within a couple of years.

"We're hopeful that this technology will allow patients to take an enema once a week rather than every day and without systemic side-effects or the need to retain the enema, as the gel quickly attaches to ulcers, ultimately improving their quality of life," he said.

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