Researchers from Stanford University have made breakthroughs that could lead to injectable gels to release medications over time. The researchers say that injecting patients with a gel that dissolves over several months could replace the need to administer daily or weekly shots. Before the breakthrough can happen, researchers have to create a Jell-O-like gel substance able to perform well inside the body.
Researchers aim to develop gels for healthcare applications by mixing in medicinal compounds to give users who need the medications in the gel injections released over months or weeks to avoid frequent needle sticks. The main challenge in the research is that heat and cold change the characteristics of the gel.
Researchers have been able to get the gels to offer the correct slow-release properties at room temperature, but once injected body heat rapidly dissolves the gel and releases the medicine too quickly. Researchers poured solid ingredients into water that’s heated and stirred to mix it well. As the mixture cools, it solidifies like Jell-O, and the molecules bond together.
The goal of the team was to make a gel substance that didn’t melt when the cool solid was heated by the body. The team used two solid ingredients, including a polymer and nanoparticles. The polymer has long spaghetti-like strands with a natural tendency to get entangled. The nanoparticles are 1/1000th the width of a human hair.
The polymer and particles were separately dissolved in water and then stirred together. When combined, the ingredients begin to bond, and polymers are wrapped tightly around the particles, something the team calls molecular Velcro. The result was a gel at room temperature, but critically the gel process was achieved without adding or subtracting energy. When exposed to body temperature of 37.5 degrees Celsius, the gel did not liquefy because of the molecular Velcro effect. The team is currently working to make the injectable gel safe for human use.