At the American Chemical Society's ProSpectives Conference, "Future Directions of Drug Delivery Technologies," in Boston in October, scientists from around the world came together to discuss where the field is going and what the biggest developments will be in the coming years.
The research that was presented focused primarily on two aspects of the field: traditional drug delivery and tissue engineering.
The main goal of traditional drug delivery research is, quite simply, to do away with needles. Nobody likes them, yet thousands of people with diseases like diabetes and multiple sclerosis rely on injections because their treatments are based on large protein molecules that must be delivered intravenously to avoid getting devoured in the stomach. This research looks for less invasive and more efficient ways to deliver therapies, such as patches, inhalers, ultrasound and, of course, pills, which still seem to be the overwhelming preference of patients.
More than half of today's medical problems, however, cannot be treated with drugs. "Say somebody is dying of liver failure," says Robert Langer, Ph.D., a professor of chemical and biomedical engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "There's no drug to treat them; the only way to treat that person is if somebody else dies, then you do a transplant." To approach this problem, Langer pioneered the field of tissue engineering -- delivering cells to the body, not just drugs.