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Caffeine as a Gentle and Biocompatible Catalyst for Drug delivery

KJ Staff
KJ Staff

Many people in their life get sick and they have to intake the pills, syrup etc. Some time these pills and syrups are so bitter in taste, it is difficult to swallow. The kids, children's and some time even the grown-up also shirk to take the medicine, only reason it is not possible to take as it is.

Recently scientists at MIT have developed a biocompatible polymer gel with potential for drug delivery. The new gel uses caffeine as a gentle and biocompatible catalyst during its manufacture, unlike many other gels that require harsh catalysts or manufacturing conditions that can ruin sensitive biological drugs intended for delivery or pose health risks for patients.

No doubt many are also addicted to tea or coffee, cold drinks and even chocolates etc. The addiction is due to caffeine, which is the main content of this tea, coffee, cola beverages and chocolates. It is easy to swallow the bitter medicine if it is blended/amalgamated with the gel made from the caffeine.

The most common sources of caffeine? Well, maybe two of the sources aren't too hard to name -- coffee and tea leaves. But did you know kola nuts and cocoa beans are also included among the most common caffeine sources? And do you know how much caffeine content can vary from food to food? Turns out it's quite a lot actually, depending on the type and serving size of a food or beverage and how it's prepared.

Caffeine content can range from as much as 160 milligrams in some energy drinks to as little as 4 milligrams in a 1-ounce serving of chocolate-flavored syrup. Even decaffeinated coffee isn't completely free of caffeine. Caffeine is also present in some over-the-counter pain relievers, cold medications , and diet pills. These products can contain as little as 16 milligrams or as much as 200 milligrams of caffeine. In fact, caffeine itself is a mild painkiller and increases the effectiveness of other pain relievers.

The researchers are developing a variety of biocompatible drug delivery materials. In the case of hydrogels, these consist of a flexible polymer matrix loaded with a therapeutic drug, which is released over time, either at a site of implantation or in the gut if the gel is ingested. Gel-loaded drugs could provide a “gummy-bear” chewable alternative to conventional tablets. “It’s really appealing for patient populations, especially children, who have difficulty with swallowing capsules and tablets,” says Giovanni Traverso, a researcher involved in the study.

One of the main challenges in this field involves modifying a polymer material so that it is suitable for a given purpose, without destroying its therapeutic drug cargo. Many polymer gels require metal catalysts, which could pose risks to patients if traces of them remain in the gel. The scientists were inspired to find new catalysts that are based on food products, and safe to ingest. They turned to a familiar plant-based substance to catalyze their gel: caffeine.

“Most synthetic approaches for synthesizing and cross-linking polymeric gels and other materials use catalysts or conditions that can damage sensitive substances such as biologic drugs. In contrast, here we used green chemistry and common food ingredients,” said Robert Langer, a researcher involved in the study. “We believe these new materials could be useful in creating new medical devices and drug delivery systems.”

The research team used caffeine to prompt citric acid (another plant-based edible material) to form a polymer network with polyethylene glycol (PEG). PEG has a long history as a biocompatible polymer and is a component of consumer products such as toothpaste. The gels contain about as much caffeine as found in a cup of tea and initial safety tests in rats have shown no harmful effects.

The resulting rubbery gel has significant potential as a drug delivery material. By changing the composition of the gel, the research team could vary its mechanical and chemical properties, allowing them to tune the strength of the material, and how quickly it released loaded drugs.

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