June 3, 2022 -- Children and adults who have trouble swallowing pills could benefit from an invention that helps the medicine go down, according to a recent update in Science Advances.
Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Brigham and Women’s Hospital developed a gel made of plant-based oils, which can be mixed with medicine, to make it easier to swallow. The gels are stable without refrigeration and can be prepared as a variety of textures, such as a thickened beverage, yogurt, or pudding.
“This platform will change our capacity for what we can do for kids, and also for adults who have difficulty receiving medication,” Giovanni Traverso, the senior study author who also teaches mechanical engineering at MIT and works as a gastroenterologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in a statement.
“Given the simplicity of the system and its low cost, it could have a tremendous impact on making it easier for patients to take medications,” he said.
The FDA has approved a clinical trial to start at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in the coming months. In a previous study, the research team showed that they could use the gels, called “oleogels,” to deliver several types of medications to treat infectious diseases in animals.
To develop the gels, the research team tested several types of plant-derived oils, such as sesame oil, cottonseed oil, and flaxseed oil, mixed with edible gelling agents such as beeswax and rice bran wax.
Researchers then worked with Sensory Spectrum, a consulting firm that specializes in consumer sensory experiences. The professional tasters found that the most appealing gels were made from oils with a neutral flavor, such as cottonseed oil, or a slightly nutty flavor, such as sesame oil.
The research team tested their gels with three water-insoluble drugs on the World Health Organization’s list of essential medicines for children. They chose praziquantel, which is used to treat parasitic infections; lumefantrine, which is used to treat malaria; and azithromycin, which is used to treat bacterial infections.
“Based on that list, infectious diseases really stood out in terms of what a country needs to protect its children,” Ameya Kirtane, one of the lead authors who studied in Traverso’s lab and now teaches at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in the statement.
“A lot of the work that we did in this study was focused on infectious disease medications, but from a formulation standpoint, it doesn’t matter what drug we put into these systems,” he said.
For each of the drugs, researchers found that oleogels were able to deliver medication doses that were equal to or higher than the amounts that can be absorbed from tablets. In addition, a water-soluble antibiotic called moxifloxacin hydrochloride could also be delivered with the gel.
Researchers designed a dispenser similar to a squeezable yogurt package, with compartments to separate doses, to make it easier to deliver the right dose to children based on their weight.
The gels could be useful for children of all ages and in different locations, study authors wrote, particularly in developing nations that may need stable medication without refrigeration. The gels could also help older adults who have difficulty swallowing pills, especially stroke patients.