Breakthrough Gel for Arthritis Treatment

April 25, 2011

Arthritis is a crippling disease that affects millions of people worldwide. Some suffer only mild symptoms but at its worst it is truly debilitating and extremely painful with treatment bringing patchy relief for many. Both rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis are characterized by often debilitating pain in the joints and a new method of relief could be at hand.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the USA) report on an injectable gel that could spell the future for treating these diseases and others. Among its advantages, the gel could allow the targeted release of medicine at an affected joint, and could dispense that medicine on demand in response to enzymes associated with arthritic flare-ups. Arthritis is a good example of a disease that attacks specific parts of the body. Conventional treatments for it, however, largely involve drugs taken orally. Not only do these take a while (often weeks) to exert their effects, they can have additional side effects. That is because the drug is dispersed throughout the body, not just at the affected joint. Further, high concentrations of the drug are necessary to deliver enough to the affected joint, which runs the risk of toxicity

Nor could this new development be limited solely to arthritis but researchers believe could be useful for multiple medical applications including the localized treatment of cancer, ocular disease, and cardiovascular disease.

Jeffrey Karp, leader of the research and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics, recently won the coveted SFB Young Investigator Award for this work. It is currently of course possible to inject a drug into the target area, but it won’t last long–only minutes to hours–because it is removed by the body’s highly efficient lymphatic system. There are also available implantable drug-delivery devices but these have drawbacks: most are made of stiff materials that in a joint can rub and cause inflammation on their own and they generally release medicine continuously–even when it’s not needed. Arthritis, for example, occurs in cycles characterized by flare-ups then remission.

A series of experiments confirmed that the gel can release encapsulated agents in an on-demand manner and although the team has yet to test this in humans, they did find that in mice the gelremained stable for at least two months. Further, the gel withstood wear and tear representative of conditions in a moving joint.

Additional tests in mice are underway and a patent has been applied for so they can start research on human subjects.


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