A Gel That Can Make Drugs Last Longer

Researchers at Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) have developed a drug-delivering hydrogel to treat chronic diseases such as hepatitis C, a liver disease that kills around 500,000 people worldwide every year.

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.

Singapore, 25 June 2015 – 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, a liver disease that kills around 500,000 people worldwide every year.

“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 standard treatment for chronic hepatitis C infections includes a weekly injection of a protein drug called PEGylated interferon. The frequent injections increases patient discomfort, is 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 will cause the encapsulated drugs to leak prematurely and be eliminated rapidly from the body.

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 a polymer compound called polyethylene glycol (PEG) that resembles “reservoirs”.

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 duration of the drug action can also be controlled by changing the size of the microscopic structures.

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. 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,” said Dr Kurisawa.

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

Up to 150 million people globally suffer from chronic hepatitis C infections according to the World Health Organization. “I believe that our method can pave the way for more effective and safe treatment of hepatitis C. We are also testing the microstructured gel for the treatment of other chronic diseases besides hepatitis C,” added Dr Kurisawa.

END

Reference:

1. K. H. Bae, F. Lee, K. Xu, C. T. Keng, S. Y. Tan, Y. J. Tan, Q. Chen and M. Kurisawa, “Microstructured Dextran Hydrogels for Burst-Free Sustained Release of PEGylated Protein Drugs,” Biomaterials, (2015) DOI:10.1016/j.biomaterials.2015.06.008.

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About the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology

Established in 2003, the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (IBN) is the world’s first bioengineering and nanotechnology research institute. IBN’s mission is to conduct multidisciplinary research across science, engineering, and medicine for breakthroughs to improve healthcare and quality of life.

IBN’s research activities are focused in the following areas:

Nanomedicine, where functionalized polymers, hydrogels and biologics are developed as therapeutics and carriers for the controlled release and targeted delivery of therapeutics to diseased cells and organs.
Synthetic Biosystems, where biomimetic materials, innovative cell culture, 3D printing technologies, microfluidic systems and bioimaging are combined to develop novel approaches for regenerative medicine, in vitro compound screening, and disease modeling.
Biodevices and Diagnostics, which involve nanotechnology and microfabricated platforms for high-throughput biomarker and drug screening, automated biologics synthesis, and rapid disease diagnosis.
Green Chemistry and Energy, which encompass the green synthesis of chemicals and pharmaceuticals, catalytic conversion of biomass, utilization of carbon dioxide, and new nanocomposite materials for energy applications.
Scientific Impact

More than 1,000 papers published in leading scientific journals
Over 1,100 seminars and presentations at international conferences, including over 700 invited, keynote and plenary lectures
Organized premier scientific meetings such as the International Conference on Bioengineering and Nanotechnology, Nano Today Conference, and the IBN International Symposium
Technological and Commercialization Impact

341 active patents and patent applications
84 licensed patents and patent applications
8 spin-off companies
159 active research collaborations with industrial, clinical and academic partners
Nurturing Future Research Talents

Trained 116 PhD students
More than 80,200 students and teachers from 290 local and overseas schools/universities have participated in IBN’s Youth Research Program
Over 2,200 students and teachers have completed research attachments at IBN
For more information on IBN, please visit www.ibn.a-star.edu.sg.

About the Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR)

The Agency for Science, Technology and Research (A*STAR) is Singapore's lead public sector agency that spearheads economic oriented research to advance scientific discovery and develop innovative technology. Through open innovation, we collaborate with our partners in both the public and private sectors to benefit society.

As a Science and Technology Organisation, A*STAR bridges the gap between academia and industry. Our research creates economic growth and jobs for Singapore, and enhances lives by contributing to societal benefits such as improving outcomes in healthcare, urban living, and sustainability.

We play a key role in nurturing and developing a diversity of talent and leaders in our Agency and Research Institutes, the wider research community and industry. A*STAR oversees 18 biomedical sciences and physical sciences and engineering research entities primarily located in Biopolis and Fusionopolis.

For more information on A*STAR, please visit www.a-star.edu.sg.

Image Name

Photograph (left) and optical microscopic (right) images of the hydrogels with polyethylene glycol microstructures.

Published: 25 Jun 2015

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