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Polymer gel used for ultra-slow drug release in stomach

Brian Collett rounds up the latest health news from around the world

GEL DELIVERS
A polymer gel added to capsules for ultra-slow drug release in the stomach has been created at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. It is pH-responsive, meaning it resists gastric acid for as long as necessary, but dissolves in the small intestine’s near-neutral pH levels after reaching the bowel. The capsules are easily swallowed but expand to become larger than the valve at the base of the stomach so that they cannot enter the intestine prematurely. The gel can also retain an electronic device in the stomach to monitor various conditions and control obese patients’ hunger. The institute is negotiating with a biotechnology company to continue development.

INSULIN BY MOUTH
Insulin by mouth for diabetics has been developed in the laboratory. The insulin is in patches inside a polymer-coated capsule that resists stomach acid. The capsule dissolves in the intestine and the patches adhere to the intestinal wall. In rats, all the insulin was released in five hours. Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara will now seek methods of accelerating and slowing insulin release from the patches.

PARTICLES THAT HEAL
A tiny particle that produces gas to propel itself through the blood to stop bleeding from internal wounds has been created at British Columbia University. It is a powder of calcium carbonate particles that release carbon dioxide when immersed in an aqueous solution and is intended to replace present clot-forming materials that struggle to move upstream to injury sites. Professor Christian Kastrup said: “Bleeding is the number one killer of young people, and maternal death from post-partum haemorrhage can be as high as one in 50 births in low-resource settings.” The researchers report that early results are promising.

BRAIN TESTS
Cognitive tests to find brain disorders early are among the main aims of a collaborative neuroscience research centre newly opened in Shanghai by the Chinese Academy of Sciences. The researchers are seeking methods more reliable than blood biomarkers, cerebrospinal fluid examination and brain imaging for early diagnosis of neurodegenerative and psychiatric conditions.

BREATHED WORDS
A computer system that speaks words based on a paralysed patient’s breath patterns has been created at Loughborough University. Patients for whom methods such as eye, facial or limb movement recognition are unsuitable are given a mask linked to the computer. Software translates the breath signals into spoken words and phrases, so far with 97.5 per cent success. Dr Atul Gaur, an anaesthetist working with the researchers, said: “This device could transform the way people with severe muscular weakness or other speech disorders communicate.”

PROTEIN POWER
A formerly unknown protein has been shown to promote immunity to viruses and cancer. The protein, manufactured profusely when immunity is enhanced, boosts cytotoxic T-cells, which kill cancer cells and others infected with viruses. Gene therapy is now being developed to trigger proliferation of the protein, named the lymphocyte expansion module. The discovery was made by scientists at Imperial College London, Queen Mary University of London, Harvard Medical School and the Swiss university ETH Zurich, with funds from the Medical Research Council, the Wellcome Trust and the British Heart Foundation.




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