Researchers Develop New Way to Administer Drugs to Transplant Patients

A drug-laden hydrogel could deliver anti-rejection drugs with fewer side effects and less toxicity.

An international team of researchers, including scientists from Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH), have developed a new way to administer immunosuppressant or anti-rejection drugs to transplant patients. Published in the August 13 issue of Science Translational Medicine, the technique utilizes a drug-laden hydrogel to deliver the medication locally and for an extended period of time.

According to a BWH report, researchers believe this new method will minimize the side effects and toxicity associated with more traditional methods of drug delivery.

“Continuous release of the drugs irrespective of disease severity is a hallmark of existing drug delivery vehicles and could be a thing of the past,” co-corresponding author Robert Rieben said in the report. Inflammation-directed drug release offers ‘judicious use of locally injected drug’ that extends the release for months while eliminating systemic toxicity. ”

The hydrogel is a “jello-like” biomaterial which patients would inject beneath the skin in the transplant area. According to the report:

The researchers developed a hydrogel loaded with the immunosuppressant drug tacrolimus. The hydrogel-drug combo is injected under the skin after transplant surgery. The hydrogel remains inactive until it detects an inflammation/immune response from the transplant site, at which point it delivers the immunosuppressant drug for months locally within the transplanted graft.

In pre-clinical studies conducted by the researchers, a one-time, local injection of the hydrogel-drug combo prevented graft rejection for more than 100 days compared to 35.5 days for recipients receiving only tacrolimus and 11 days for recipients without treatment or only receiving hydrogel.

Though the study focused on transplant surgery specifically, researchers believe the technique may prove useful in treating diseases such as psoriasis, arthritis, and cancer.

“This safe, controlled release platform approach functions for over three months from a single injection, and that has broad implications,”co-corresponding author Jeff Karp said in the report. “Nearly every disease has an inflammatory component.”