MIT Researchers Develop a Biodegradable ‘Thin Film’

It's a new technique that can deliver medication for up to 14 months.

The nanoscale, biodegradable film can deliver medication. photo by Dominick Reuter.

The nanoscale, biodegradable film can deliver medication. photo by Dominick Reuter.

The NIH reports that chronic pain is the most common cause of long-term disability in the U.S. But thanks to new research from MIT, there may be a new option for those who are living with this condition.

Researchers developed a new biodegradable “thin film” which delivers pain medication, and possibly other kinds of drugs, to specific parts of the body. Published in the August 4 issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the nanoscale film can administer medication in incremental doses for up to 14 months. Bryan Hsu, an MIT doctoral student who assisted with the project, said in a report that one thing which makes the film unique is it does not need to be removed after implantation.

“Normally to get long-term drug release, you need a reservoir or device, something that can hold back the drug. And it’s typically non-degradable,” Hsu said in the report. “It will release slowly, but it will either sit there and you have this foreign object retained in the body, or you have to go recover it.”

Because the MIT-developed film is biodegradable, investigators had to find a way to ensure that the film would not break down and release the medication too quickly. According to the report:

To address this, researchers developed what they call a “layer-by-layer” technique, in which drug molecules are effectively attached to layers of thin-film coating. In this specific case, the researchers used diclofenac, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug that is often prescribed for osteoarthritis and other pain or inflammatory conditions. They then bound it to thin layers of poly-L-glutamatic acid, which consists of an amino acid the body reabsorbs, and two other organic compounds. The film can be applied onto degradable nanoparticles for injection into local sites or used to coat permanent devices, such as orthopedic implants.

When tested, researchers found that the drug-laden film successfully blocked the effects of cyclooxygenase, an enzyme which contributes to inflammation, for more than a year. According to the report, the new film “significantly exceeds the release duration achieved by most commercial controlled-release biodegradable films.”

Researchers believe that this technique may be used to deliver other medications as well, though further testing is needed.