Targeting Arthritis Flare-Ups

Biomedical engineers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston have announced the development of what might prove to be a superior method of delivering pain-relieving medication to the aching joints of arthritis patients.

Writing in the journal Nature Communications, the scientists described their creation of a drug-loaded hydrogel designed to be injected into a joint and to respond in real time to an arthritis flare-up. The two conventional ways of delivering pain relief to an aching arthritic joint have drawbacks. A medicine in a pill is disseminated throughout the entire body and not just the joint, while an injection, although local, stays in the joint only briefly. The hydrogel promises to solve both these problems.

The hydrogel is made by stacking the same small molecule over and over to form a soft flexible gel. The gel is not the pain reliever but the delivery system. An arthritis drug is included in the stack of molecules, which also contain a bond that can be split during inflammation. In the presence of an arthritis flare-up, the molecules break down, one after the other, releasing the drug in proportion to the severity of the flare-up. According to Jeff Karp, PhD, co-author of the report, “We wanted to design a delivery system that could be efficient, deliver drugs locally, and release drugs in response to inflammation.”

The hydrogel has so far been tested only on mice, and it performed as hoped, releasing more of the drug when symptoms became more severe. The next step the researchers wish to make is to conduct trials on humans, and to that end they have licensed the technology to a company that specializes in developing drug formulations for treating inflammatory diseases.

Want to learn more about arthritis research? Read “An Algorithm to Predict Osteoarthritis Progression,” “Foods That Relieve Arthritis,” and “Arthritis and Mood.”

Joseph Gustaitis is a freelance writer and editor based in the Chicago area.

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