New pZC material ensures safe passage of drugs through the gut

Scientists have developed a new encapsulation material called pZC that allows safe delivery of therapeutics into the intestines and could open up many avenues for more precise drug delivery.

The substance, which the researchers called foundational technology, is a new class of material called polyzwitterionic complex, or “pZC,” and is able to withstand highly acidic conditions in the stomach, while dissolving in the environment relatively stomach sweet. intestines.

This feature of the complex directly addresses the need for a delivery mechanism that bypasses the stomach, in which a high degree of nutrients and therapeutics often break down, instead carrying drugs or other compounds directly into the intestines. to be absorbed into the bloodstream.

The team of researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst noted that this property means that pZCs could help revolutionize the delivery of many varieties of drugs, from familiar oral antibiotics to new classes of tricky protein therapeutics.

Commenting on the benefits of their discovery, the study’s lead author, Khatcher Margossian, a dual MD/PhD candidate from Rush Medical College and the Department of Polymer Science and Engineering at UMass Amherst, said explained: “Despite the common experience of swallowing medications orally, there are a large number of therapies that are not available orally. Indeed, many medications cannot withstand the strongly acidic environment of The common solutions to this problem are to inject or implant drugs, but both options can present problems that make patients unwilling to go through full cycles of treatment.

Moreover, of the drugs that can be administered orally, many fail to reach the intestine fully intact. “Doses of oral medications are usually larger than what our bodies really need,” revealed Murugappan Muthukumar, Wilmer D. Barrett Professor of Polymer Science and Engineering at UMass Amherst and lead author of the study. “That’s because some drugs break down in the stomach.”

The study therefore focused on finding a way to protect therapeutic agents while in the stomach, while releasing them in the intestines.

The resulting pZC, which forms through a process known as complex coacervation, uses two types of charged polymers: a polyzwitterion and a polyelectrolyte, which combine to form a protective droplet that encapsulates the drug. The key feature of pZC is that it is strong enough to withstand the highly acidic environment of the stomach, while reliably disassembling in the mild, neutral conditions of the small intestine.

In a somewhat counterintuitive move, the researchers found that weakening the bonds between the polyzwitterion and the polyelectrolyte achieved this functionality. “Weakening the association between the two materials,” Muthukumar said, “allows us to control precisely when they separate. If the bonds are too strong, there’s no room for play.”

The group’s research is guided by the real needs of medical practitioners. Not only will these materials allow clinicians to deliver the right doses of medication more efficiently, but they will dramatically increase the number of medications that can be taken orally. “This is a foundational technology that can change the way we treat disease,” Margossian noted. “We hope our work will find its way into the hands of clinicians and help them save lives.

This research was supported by the National Science Foundation and the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and the study was published in Communication Nature.

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