NOV 18, 2016 7:05 AM PST

Pill Unfurls Into a Star For Truly Extended Drug Release

WRITTEN BY: Xuan Pham
For people who hate to swallow pills or just can’t remember to take their mediation as regularly as they should, scientists may have found a perfect solution. And it’s in the shape of a six-point star.


Currently, people with chronic conditions have to take their medication on a regular basis. And if a patient has multiple conditions, it’s not hard to imagine a brimming pillbox. To help alleviate the need to take the same pills every day, MIT scientists came up with a unique pill that packs enough medicine for extended release in the stomach for days.
 
It may sound simple, but designing such a system is more complex than just making a super potent pill. For one thing, the goal is to have the medicine dissolve slowly over an extended period of time. It would not do the patients any good, and could cause serious complications like an overdose, if a week’s worth of medication was metabolized by the body in a day.
 
The second obstacle of an extended-release pill is keeping the pill inside the stomach for more than a day. This is the current window drug makers have to contend with, as even the most competitive extended release/delayed-release tablets on the market are expelled from the gut in a day’s time.
 
The new contraption, pill that unfurls into a six-pointed star, seemingly overcomes both obstacles, at least in pigs. According to the researchers, the unique multi-pronged shape is what will physically prevent the pill from leaving the stomach. And once safely inside the stomach, the medicine is dissolved one by one with the help of a polymer coating. When the pill is finished, the whole contraption dissolves and is ejected out of the stomach into the small intestine and eventually excreted.
 
While other extended drug release methods are available, such as skin patches and  implantable devices, this is one of the few promising attempts at a truly long-lasting pill. Advantages to the pill would include ease of use and non-invasiveness.
 
Furthermore, the team foresees this technology being especially helpful to patients who suffer silent chronic conditions, like high blood pressure or diabetes. “Some of these diseases do not have symptoms that are perceived daily and in fact are silent to some degree,” said Giovanni Traverso, the study’s lead author. For these patients who may not have constant distress to remind them to take their medication, a long-lasting pill such as this could dramatically increase adherence to prescribed drug regimens.
 

The device is also targeted to less developed countries where medical clinics are far and few in between and medical compliance is already low. In particular, the device is already being tested for treatment against malaria, one of the most pervasive and deadly diseases globally.
 
Additional sources: PopScience
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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