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Ultrasound could be used to improve drug delivery

23 October 2015

Using ultrasound waves, researchers from MIT and MGH have found a way to enable ultra-rapid delivery of drugs to the gastrointestinal tract.

Image courtesy of the researchers

This approach could make it easier to deliver drugs to patients suffering from GI disorders such as inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease, the researchers say. 

Currently, such diseases are usually treated with drugs administered as an enema, which must be maintained in the colon for hours while the drug is absorbed. However, this can be difficult for patients who are suffering from diarrhoea and incontinence. To overcome that, the researchers sought a way to stimulate more rapid drug absorption.

“We’re not changing how you administer the drug. What we are changing is the amount of time that the formulation needs to be there, because we’re accelerating how the drug enters the tissue,” says Giovanni Traverso, a research affiliate at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, a gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH), and one of the senior authors of a paper describing the technique in the journal, Science Translational Medicine.

Ultrasound improves drug delivery by a mechanism known as transient cavitation. When a fluid is exposed to sound waves, the waves induce the formation of tiny bubbles that implode and create microjets that can penetrate and push medication into tissue.

While inflammatory GI diseases are an obvious first target for this type of drug delivery, it could also be used to administer drugs for colon cancer or infections of the GI tract, Traverso says. The researchers are now performing additional animal studies to help them optimise the ultrasound device and prepare it for testing in human patients.

Video: Melanie Gonick/MIT (animation courtesy of the researchers)


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