New gels could help the medicine go down: Mixing drugs into oil-based gels could offer relief for children and adults who have trouble swallowing pills

For most children and even some adults, swallowing pills or tablets is difficult. To make it easier to give those medicines, researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have created a drug-delivering gel that is much easier to swallow and could be used to administer a variety of different kinds of drugs.

The gels, made from plant-based oils such as sesame oil, can be prepared with a variety of textures, from a thickened beverage to a yogurt-like substance. The gels are stable without refrigeration, which could make them easier to get to children in developing nations, but they could also be beneficial for children anywhere, the researchers say. They could also help adults who have difficulty swallowing pills, such as older people or people who have suffered a stroke.

“This platform will change our capacity for what we can do for kids, and also for adults who have difficulty receiving medication. 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,” says Giovanni Traverso, the Karl van Tassel Career Development Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the senior author of the study.

Traverso and his colleagues showed that they could use the gels to deliver several types of medications for the treatment of infectious disease, in the same doses that can be delivered by pills or tablets, in animal studies. The research team is now planning a clinical trial that is expected to begin within a few months.

Former MIT postdoc Ameya Kirtane, now an instructor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital; MIT postdoc Christina Karavasili; and former technical associate Aniket Wahane are the lead authors of the study, which appears today in Science Advances.

Easy to swallow

Nearly 10 years ago, while working on other kinds of ingestible drug-delivery systems, the research team started to think about new ways to make it easier for children to take medications that are normally given as pills. There are existing strategies that can help with this, but none is a perfect solution. Some antibiotics and other drugs can be suspended in water, but that requires clean water to be available, and the drugs need to be refrigerated after being mixed. Also, this strategy doesn’t work for drugs that are not soluble in water.

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