New hydrogel material that can break down and spontaneously reform in the gastrointestinal tract can help researchers develop more effective methods for oral drug delivery. Scientists are studying covalent adaptable hydrogels (CAHs), which are designed to release molecules as they lose polymer in the stomach. And then they re-gel themselves, which protects the molecules and allows them to remain active for targeted delivery to the intestines. A new study publishes Soft Matter magazine.

Most drugs and nutrients are absorbed into the body in the intestines, but to get there, they need to go through the stomach – a very acidic, harsh environment that can interfere with the active molecules in pharmaceuticals.

Scientists tackled the problem by studying covalent adaptable hydrogels (CAH), which systematically release drug molecules in the intestines.

To characterize the material and give an idea of ​​its pharmaceutical potential, the researchers redesigned the microfluidic device, originally developed in Schulz’s laboratory, to study tissues and home care products to create a “gastrointestinal tract on a chip”. The experimental setup allows the exchange of fluid around the gel to simulate the pH of all organs in the gastrointestinal tract, simulating how the material will react overtime when it enters the body.

The covalent adaptable hydrogel exhibits spontaneous re-gelation. As a rule, gels do not decompose and then are converted without any additional incentives. However, scientists were able to demonstrate the viability of the new gel as a means of oral delivery of drugs and nutrients. Now scientists are beginning to work on studies of molecular release and the addition of other components to the gel.