New Modification Method Could Bring Lifesaving Medications to Market

A safe and efficient technique using cellulose to get drugs to safely reach their target to save lives was created.

Xiangtao Meng, a fourth-year graduate student in the College of Natural Resources and Environment has developed a new technique that can get drugs to market, and to patients, that would otherwise fail.

Taking medications orally is typically much more practical for patients than methods like intravenous injections, but the bioavailability of a drug the amount that actually reaches the bloodstream often suffers.

In order to reach the circulatory system, a drug taken orally must dissolve in the digestive tract.

But many pharmaceutically active compounds tend to crystallize, making them less soluble. And some medications are not stable in the harsh environment of the stomach.

That means that patients have to ingest more of a drug to get the therapeutic dose thereby increasing the cost, risk of side effects, and the likelihood that the patient will simply miss a dose.

Suspending the drug in a polymer matrix can be helpful in such cases . Meng devised a way to apply a famous class of chemical reactions to cellulose, a natural polymer often used for drug delivery. Polymers are long chains of repeating units

Many familiar materials are polymers, including proteins, DNA, and cellulose, a sugar-based polymer which gives plant cell walls their structure.

Dispersing a drug in a polymer matrix protects it and suppresses the formation of insoluble crystals.

The polymer eventually swells and releases the drug, allowing it to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

Because medications have broadly diverse chemical structures, properties, and dosing and delivery requirements, finding the right polymer matrix to work well with most drugs involves making and testing many different options.

Meng’s chemistry offers a new way to make a wide variety of polymer matrices using cellulose as a starting material.

Cellulose is an attractive material for drug delivery because it is nontoxic and breaks down into components that are already present in the body. It is water-permeable and can survive the stomach’s acidic environment.

Unlike many synthetic polymers, which are often made from petrochemicals, cellulose is derived from wood, a renewable resource supporting the mission of the College of Natural Resources and Environment to advance the science of sustainability.

Meng’s method will allow chemists to use a single readily available, renewable starting material to develop a wide variety of polymers specifically tuned to carry many different pharmaceutical targets.


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