New Technology Enables Time-Release Medicine and Vaccines

Category Health

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Bioengineers at Rice University have developed a new state-of-the-art technology called PULSED, which enables the production of time-release medicine and vaccines using high-resolution 3D printing and soft lithography. This technology offers unprecedented customization of drug release profiles, which would reduce the consequences of not taking prescription medicine correctly, particularly in low- and middle-income countries.

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The issue of missing essential doses of medicine and vaccines could become a thing of the past, thanks to new technology developed by bioengineers at Rice University. This state-of-the-art technology enables the production of time-release drugs.

"This is a huge problem in the treatment of chronic disease," said Kevin McHugh, corresponding author of a study about the technology published online in Advanced Materials. "It’s estimated that 50% of people don’t take their medications correctly. With this, you’d give them one shot, and they’d be all set for the next couple of months." .

The study was conducted by Rice University bioengineers, led by corresponding author Kevin McHugh

The consequences of not taking prescription medicine correctly can be devastating, resulting in a staggering annual cost. In the United States alone, it is estimated that the toll includes over 100,000 deaths, as much as 25% of hospitalizations, and a healthcare cost exceeding $100 billion.

Encapsulating medicine in microparticles that dissolve and release drugs over time isn’t a new idea. But McHugh and graduate student Tyler Graf used 21st-century methods to develop next-level encapsulation technology that is far more versatile than its forerunners.

PLGA polymers are often used in biodegradable platforms for drug delivery and medical devices

Dubbed PULSED (short for Particles Uniformly Liquified and Sealed to Encapsulate Drugs), the technology employs high-resolution 3D printing and soft lithography to produce arrays of more than 300 nontoxic, biodegradable cylinders that are small enough to be injected with standard hypodermic needles.

The cylinders are made of a polymer called PLGA that’s widely used in clinical medical treatment. McHugh and Graf demonstrated four methods of loading the microcylinders with drugs and showed they could tweak the PLGA recipe to vary how quickly the particles dissolved and released the drugs — from as little as 10 days to almost five weeks. They also developed a fast and easy method for sealing the cylinders, a critical step to demonstrate the technology is both scalable and capable of addressing a major hurdle in time-release drug delivery.

PULSED technology replicates pulsatile release of drugs, releasing a regular amount of drug over a period of time rather than a burst at the beginning

"The thing we’re trying to overcome is ‘first-order release,’" McHugh said, referring to the uneven dosing that’s characteristic with current methods of drug encapsulation. "The common pattern is for a lot of the drug to be released early, on day one. And then on day 10, you might get 10 times less than you got on day one.

"If there’s a huge therapeutic window, then releasing 10 times less on day 10 might still be OK, but that’s rarely the case," McHugh said. "Most of the time it’s really problematic, either because the day-one dose brings you close to toxicity or because getting 10 times less — or even four or five times less — at later time points isn’t enough to be effective." .

PULSED cylinders are uniform and rectangular in shape, making them scalable and more efficient than previous methods of drug encapsulation

In many cases, it would be ideal for patients to have the same amount of a drug in their systems throughout treatment. McHugh said PULSED can be tailored for that kind of release profile, and it also could be used in other ways.

"Our motivation for this particular project actually came from the vaccine space," he said. "In vaccination, you often need multiple doses spread out over the course of months. That’s really difficult to do in low- and middle-income countries because of health care accessibility issues. The idea was, ‘What if we made particles that exhibit pulsatile release?’ And we hypothesized that this core-shell structuure might be able to do it." .

The technology offers unprecedented customization of drug release profiles, so that patient can receive just the right amount of medication over a period of time

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