Researchers can control the rate of release by changing the density of the gel, allowing for continuous drug delivery over a specific period of time. The team is led by Shuguang Zhang, associate director of MIT's Center for Biomedical Engineering.
The gel, known as a "nanofiber hydrogel scaffold," enables a gradual release of the proteins from the gel over hours, days or even months. The gel itself is eventually broken down into harmless amino acids - the building blocks of proteins. Peptide hydrogels are ideally suited for drug delivery as they are pure, easy to design and use, non-toxic, non-immunogenic, bio-absorbable, and can be locally applied to a particular tissue.
Composed of self-assembling amino acid chains (peptides), the gel is about 99 percent water by volume. Depending on the size and density of the mesh, it can carry protein molecules between 14,000 and 150,000 daltons (a unit of molecular weight). Trastuzumab, an antibody protein often used to treat breast and ovarian cancer under the brand name Herceptin, is about 50,000 daltons. Researchers also showed that proteins carried by the gel emerge unscathed after delivery, with no adverse affect on their function.
Potential applications include delivery of insulin, monoclonal antibodies such as Herceptin, hormones, growth factors and cancer drugs, as well as eye medications.
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