AP Gail Burton / AP
The gel can differentiate between healthy and inflamed flesh.
A new gel could revolutionize pain treatment by going where it needs to go when it needs to be there and leaving everywhere else alone. The gel, developed by Jeff Karp at the Laboratory for Accelerated Medical Innovation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, can attach itself to sites of inflammation, recognizing the difference between healthy and injured flesh. The hydrogel (a high water content solid substance) carries a variety of drugs, and releases as much as is needed based on the level of inflammation it detects.
This includes treatment of chronic illnesses like arthritis. The gel, if injected into a joint with arthritis, would be able to recognize when the patient is experiencing heightened pain by detecting the level of inflammation, and release the medication based on that reading.
“There are lots of enzymes present in inflammation that can degrade the gel,” Karp told The Atlantic. As the gel degrades, it will release the payload of drugs it carries.
Other applications of the gel include treating the painful mouth ulcers, called mucositis, that patients undergoing radiation therapy experience. “Mucositis is the biggest complaint from patients, and it often leads to a lowered dose of the therapy,” says Karp. That means that this gel could enable patients to bear a greater dose of the therapy they need.
One of the most exciting possibilities for the use of this new technology is in limb transplants. The gel can carry other drugs aside from anti-inflammatories, like the immune suppressants used to safely transplant a limb. In studies with rats, using the gel has increased the time it takes for the host to reject the new limb from 33 days to 150 days. Another group of researchers in Pittsburg are working with the US Army to test this method on pigs, which are often used to gage if a treatment will work on humans, as their anatomy and responses are very similar. With these kinds of applications, the gel could very well change the face of pain treatment, and trauma medication in general, as we know it.
Source: The Atlantic