Although clinical applications are still years away, rheumatologists should start getting excited about research to develop a synthetic hydrogel—squishy gel, for short—that could be injected into arthritic joints to time release antiinflammatory medication.
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A lead author of a new report on the production of the so-called mechano-responsive gels says that while it’s likely years away from use by patients, her research is an exciting development for patients whose osteoarthritis flares up when joints compress.1
“On the one hand, it can combat the inflammatory response,” says Xinqiao Jia, PhD, associate professor of materials science and engineering at the University of Delaware in Newark. “Down the road, if you can release a therapeutic drug … that would be the ultimate goal.”
The study was published in the American Chemical Society’s Biomacromolecules.
Few existing hydrogels respond to the pressure produced by joint compression, meaning development of such squishy gels could be a revolutionary treatment. The research team is currently conducting animal testing, which Dr. Jia says could take another two years.
Preliminary results are encouraging and, if all goes well, human trials could begin in a few years. The theory is to eventually create a gel that would include a chemical compound capable of helping repair, restore or regenerate cartilage in a joint.
“Incorporating mechano-responsive modules in synthetic matrices offers a novel strategy to harvest mechanical stress present in the healing wounds to initiate tissue repair,” the study says. But Dr. Jia cautions that this kind of research is cutting edge and could take years to become patient ready, as well as requiring extensive grants to fund the work.
“I’m excited … but I don’t want to give people false hope that they can immediately expect this,” she adds. “We have a lot of work to do.”
(posted April 8, 2014)
Richard Quinn is a freelance writer in New Jersey.
- Xiao L, Tong Z, Chen Y, et al. Hyaluronic acid-based hydrogels containing covalently integrated drug depots: Implication for controlling inflammation in mechanically stressed tissues. Biomacromolecules. 2013;14:3808–3819.