Researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have developed a series of oil-based gels that are intended to help those with difficulty swallowing to take drugs orally. Some adults and many children have difficulty taking pills, and so developing other forms of medication for oral drugs is important. The gels could be particularly useful in low-resource regions, as they are low cost, and do not require refrigeration or a supply of clean water to suspend the drug. They can also be used to deliver a wide variety of drugs, including hydrophobic drugs that do not easily dissolve in water.
For those with swallowing difficulties, pills can be a chore. This is also true for many children, who are uncomfortable swallowing large pills that are designed for adults. Mixing a drug into a liquid could help, but many drugs won’t dissolve in water. Moreover, in low resource regions of the world accessing clean water to mix with a drug can be a challenge, and storing water-based drug solutions can also be difficult with minimal or intermittent access to refrigeration. Without cold storage, such water-based drug preparations can spoil.
To address this, the MIT and BWH researchers have turned to oil-based gels, which have a variety of advantages as an easy-to-swallow carrier medium for oral drugs. “This platform will change our capacity for what we can do for kids, and also for adults who have difficulty receiving medication,” said Giovanni Traverso, a researcher involved in the study. “Given the simplicity of the system and its low cost, it could have a tremendous impact on making it easier for patients to take medications.”
The gels are known as oleogels, and they can be modified to form a range of textures, from something resembling runny yogurt to much thicker substances similar to protein shakes. However, their key attribute is their ability to solubilize hydrophobic drugs. “That approach gave us the capacity to deliver very hydrophobic drugs that cannot be delivered through water-based systems,” said Ameya Kirtane, another researcher who developed the new technolgoy. “It also allowed us to make these formulations with a really wide range of textures.”
The team tested their gels to determine which are the most palatable. So far, they have found that those made from sesame oil were preferred because of their slight nutty flavor, and also gels with a more neutral flavor were popular, such as gels made using cottonseed oil.
The researchers have also tested the gels in their ability to deliver hydrophobic drugs that are useful for infectious diseases, which would be particularly relevant to low-resource regions. These include praziquantel, an anti-parasitic drug, azithromycin, an anti-bacterial, and lumefantrine, an anti-malarial. In all cases, the gel proved to be a useful delivery vehicle.
Study in Science Advances: Development of oil-based gels as versatile drug delivery systems for pediatric applications