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New Drug Carrier Systems
UD’s Kristi Kiick and colleagues are working to program novel drug carrier systems capable of delivering pain relief over varying timescales and temperatures. The researchers have the right material structure. Now they are exploring ways to trigger the system to release specific medications under particular conditions, such as by heating or cooling.
University of Delaware Professor Kristi Kiick is leading collaborative research to create new drug delivery systems with the potential to improve treatment for diseases that affect connective tissues, such as osteoarthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, which is an autoimmune disease.
The UD researchers have devised tiny cargo-carrying systems many times smaller than a human hair. These systems, or carriers, are made from molecules called peptides that help provide structure for cells and tissues.
The research team is working to program these nanoparticle carriers to selectively bind to degrading collagen in the body. Collagen is a protein that helps plump up or provide structure to connective tissue—everything from our skin to our bones, tendons and ligaments.
When collagen degrades, as a result of disease or injury, the nanoparticles designed by the Kiick lab can attach and remain at the injury site longer than many current treatment options. This allows for the possibility of delivering site-specific medicines over longer periods of time—from days to weeks.
In one collaborative project that involves this work, Kiick is trying to develop drug carriers that could be useful in treating osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a degenerative joint disorder characterized by inflammation, pain and stiffness. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it affects 32.5 million Americans.
Early studies with Christopher Price, an associate professor in biomedical engineering, suggests that these nanoparticles can be retained in tissue and knee joints. In other related studies, Kiick and her students have shown that drugs can be encapsulated and retained in the nanoparticles, until released by changes in temperature.
“We are interested in learning how to release drugs that can help not just with pain management, but also with slowing down disease progression,” said Kiick, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of Materials Science and Engineering. “It has been key that we have been able to collaborate with the Price laboratory in this type of work.”
For a long time, small molecule corticosteroids have been a standard of care for managing pain in osteoarthritic joints. Because the joint is full of thick, sticky fluid and is under constant mechanical stress and motion, these small-molecule drugs get expelled from the fluid around the knee pretty quickly, in minutes.