Polymer gel holds promise for therapeutics delivery and tissue engineering

RICHLAND, Wash. - A new polymer-based material with unique gelling properties found useful in medical applications ranging from targeted cancer treatment to tissue engineering has been developed by researchers at the Department of Energy's Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.

Called a stimuli-sensitive polymer, the material is designed to change immediately from a liquid into a gel in response to stimulus, such as an increase in temperature. This feature would enable physicians to inject the mixture of the polymer and a medicinal solution directly into a specific target in the body, where it would warm and instantly gel.

"Stimuli-sensitive gels show promise for the effective treatment of inoperable tumors," said Anna Gutowska, senior research scientist at PNNL and lead developer of the gel. "While much more research remains to be done before this becomes an accepted medical procedure, we are very excited about its potential."

One of the more promising therapeutic applications is targeted delivery of medical isotopes or chemotherapy drugs to treat inoperable or difficult-to-treat solid tumors, such as those of the liver, pancreas, brain, breast and prostate.

This year, approximately 179,000 new cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed, according to the American Cancer Society. The gel may be applicable as an improved therapy for early-stage prostate cancer, for example.

In this application, the polymer solution would be mixed with a medical isotope or chemotherapy drug, then injected into the tumor where body heat would cause instant gelling. Because the gel holds the therapeutic at the target site, developers anticipate being able to safely deliver a uniform dose to cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

In preliminary tests, the gel appears to hold therapeutic isotopes in place. Furthermore, the gel appears to be compatible with both beta- and gamma-emitting isotopes, which would enable physi

Contact: Geoff Harvey
DOE/Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

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