New gel medication breakthrough delays release of drug to benefit the patient


Innovative drug delivery solution for paediatric and geriatric applications

Scientists at the University of Huddersfield are pioneering the use of a special gel to administer medicines to young children and others — including the elderly — who have difficulty swallowing pills and capsules. Unlike purely liquid medicines, the gel delays the release of the drug for maximum effect.

The research project is a response to the increasing demand for ‘age appropriate’ drugs for paediatric and geriatric patients. A fluid gel made from gellan gum, a natural polysaccharide that has mostly been used in foodstuffs, has been investigated and found to have immense pharmaceutical potential.

The gel-based medication consists of microscopic gel particles that, collectively, are pourable and can be administered with a spoon. But, in the stomach, the ‘fluid gel’ solidifies, so that the drug is not delivered immediately; instead, it is released in the intestine over a period of several hours.

Dr Alan Smith, whose lab at the University of Huddersfield specialises in pharmaceutical and biomedical biopolymer research, led the project. A member of the team, Mohammed Mahdi, is lead author of new articles that describe the potential of gellan gum.

‘The first paper, ‘Evaluation of gellan gum fluid gels as modified release oral liquids’, appears in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics,’ he said, adding: 'It describes experiments that showed that the gel prevented the release of ibuprofen in simulated gastric fluid.

‘This delayed release of the drug was the result of increased gel stiffness in acidic conditions and the article demonstrates the potential to design fluid gels that are tuned to the pH levels of patients, leading to the ideal level of modified release.’

Further, another article investigates the use of gellan gum in the development of new and more effective nasal sprays. Although the nose has exceptional potential as a route for drug delivery, the natural ways in which the nasal cavity protects itself present pharmaceutical challenges.

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These can be addressed by adding mucoadhesive polymers in the form of a gel that help with the retention of the drug in the nose. However, it has proved difficult to develop a gel that can be sprayed, so the University of Huddersfield researchers — using a procedure known as ‘shear force’ during the gelation process — have developed fluid gels that can be used in a standard nasal spray and have much higher mucoadhesion properties.