Johns Hopkins researchers are touting microdevices that can latch onto intestinal mucosa and release drugs into the body.
Led by engineering professor David Gracias and gastroenterologist Dr. Florin Selaru, the team of researchers and biomedical engineers designed and tested shape-changing microdevices that they say can mimic the way the parasitic hookworm affixes itself to an organism’s intestines, according to a news release.
Each “theragripper,” or dust-spec-sized microdevice made of metal and thin, shape-changing film and coated in a heat-sensitive paraffin wax, can potentially carry any drug and release it gradually into the body.
Thousands of theragrippers can be deployed in the GI tract, and when the paraffin wax coating reaches the temperature inside the body, the devices close autonomously and clamp onto the colonic wall, causing the six-pointed microdevice to dig into the mucosa and remain attached to the colon, where they are retained and release medicine gradually into the body before they lose grip on the tissue and are cleared through normal gastrointestinal muscular function.
“Normal constriction and relaxation of GI tract muscles make it impossible for extended-release drugs to stay in the intestine long enough for the patient to receive the full dose,” Selaru said in the release. “We’ve been working to solve this problem by designing these small drug carriers that can autonomously latch onto the intestinal mucosa and keep the drug load inside the GI tract for a desired duration of time.”
The team published the results of an animal study in Science Advances in which they fabricated the devices with about 6,000 theragrippers per 3-inch silicon wafer. They loaded a pain-relieving drug onto the grippers and found that the animals into which theragrippers were administered had higher concentrates of the pain reliever in their bloodstreams than the control group did.
Funding for the study was provided by the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation. The Johns Hopkins University has filed patents on behalf of Gracias and Selaru related to this technology in accordance with the university’s conflict of interest policies.