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Discovery & Development Drug Delivery

Wake Up and Smell the Polymer

Biocompatible gels have a range of applications in the pharma industry, including drug delivery. Giovanni Traverso, assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a gastroenterologist in the division of gastroenterology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, along with his collaborators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, is working to develop new polymer gels with improved safety profiles. The majority of gels are created using traditional metal catalysts, which can pose a toxicity risk if any of the catalyst remains in the gel after it is formed.

In particular, Traverso and his team have hit upon a novel catalyst with low toxicity in the form of the well-loved friend of the coffee drinker: caffeine (1). “We used caffeine, a weak base, to catalyze anhydrous carboxylate ring-opening of diglycidyl-ether functionalized monomers with citric acid,” explains Traverso.

The gummy polymer gels created using this method could have a range of applications, particularly for patient populations who have difficulty swallowing capsules and tablets. It’s also possible to fine-tune the properties of the gels. “We have demonstrated the capacity to tune the surface properties of these gels by recreating the surface pattern of the lotus leaf on the gels and thereby modulating the hydrophobicity of the material,” says Traverso. Altering the gels in this way could be used to impact how quickly or slowly they move through the patient’s digestive tract.

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  1. AM DiCiccio et al., “Caffeine-catalyzed gels”, Biomaterials, 170, 127–135 (2018). PMID: 29660635.
About the Author
Roisin McGuigan

I have an extensive academic background in the life sciences, having studied forensic biology and human medical genetics in my time at Strathclyde and Glasgow Universities. My research, data presentation and bioinformatics skills plus my ‘wet lab’ experience have been a superb grounding for my role as a Deputy Editor at Texere Publishing. The job allows me to utilize my hard-learned academic skills and experience in my current position within an exciting and contemporary publishing company.

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