Researchers have developed a gel they say brings some relief for those with inflammatory bowel disease.

Their new hydrogel sticks to inflammation sites and delivers medicine to impacted areas over time, instead of treating both healthy and inflamed tissue.

The hydrogel was created by researchers from Brigham and Women's Hospital (BWH) as well as collaborators from Massachusetts General Hospital and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

Their findings were published today in Science Translational Medicine.

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Treatment Gets Rid of Daily Enemas

Enemas can treat ulcerative colitis. Nearly every patient with the condition will require an enema-based treatment at some point in his or her life.

But there are issues with those treatments, co-corresponding author Jeff Karp, Ph.D., told Healthline. Karp is with the BWH Department of Medicine and is a principal investigator at Harvard Stem Cell Institute.

Patients who receive enemas retain relatively little medication. There is high systemic absorption of the drug, and patients often don't follow doctors' instructions correctly, so they must endure enemas every day.

 “Our approach can potentially address all three,” Karp said. “The gel we designed rapidly attaches to ulcers within seconds to minutes.”

Additionally, there’s less systemic absorption because the gel attaches only to ulcers. The researchers demonstrated that they could reduce the dosing frequency as well.

“We realized that if we could develop a disease-targeted hydrogel system that rapidly attaches to ulcers and slowly release drugs at the site of inflammation, then we could create a better way to deliver medicine only where the drug is needed,” Karp said in a statement.

“We're hopeful that this technology will allow patients to take an enema once a week rather than every day and without systemic side effects or the need to retain the enema as the gel quickly attaches to ulcers, ultimately improving their quality of life,” Karp added.

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Testing on Mice and Tissue

Most of Karp’s team experimented on mice, but they did test the hydrogel on biopsied human tissue.

The gel consists of ascorbyl palmitate, a material already approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. (FDA)

Positively charged ulcers attract the material, so it can to anchor to inflamed sites.

The gel is loaded with a corticosteroid drug that commonly is used to treat inflamed bowel disease. The hydrogel can be cut by enzymes found only in inflamed tissue. When the enzyme interacts with the gel, the molecules in the gel break up to release the medicine.

“We designed the gel to both target inflamed tissue or ulcers and release drug only at sites of inflammation,” said co-first author Sufeng Zhang, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow at MIT’s David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research.

The researchers say they will repeat experiments using other drugs. They also want to assess the gel in additional preclinical models before testing it on patients.

In the meantime, Karp said the researchers will work quickly to make the treatment available as soon as possible.

“New approaches are on the horizon and we are working hard to bring this to patients as quickly as we can,” he said.

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