'Smart' carriers and tiny skin-deep 'medicine cabinets' improve drug effectiveness against cancer, AIDS, other diseases

An oral or injected "smart" drug carrier that seeks out targeted diseased cells in the body and a tiny gel "medicine cabinet" injected under the skin to supply drugs as needed on a weekly, monthly or yearly basis have been developed by a team of scientists from Rutgers, the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ) and the Cancer Institute of New Jersey (CINJ).

The two systems based on polymer (plastic) technology are being detailed by the scientists this week (Oct. 21-25) in a series of more than 30 research papers at the 2001 American Association of Pharmaceutical Scientists' (AAPS) annual meeting in Denver. AAPS is a professional scientific society of more than 11,000 members employed in academia, industry, government and other research institutes worldwide.

The "smart" polymer, taken orally as a pill or injected, can be targeted to release its drugs in specific organs or cells by means of "ligands," a variety of compounds that interact only with the receptors on certain types of cells, said Patrick J. Sinko, chairman of the department of pharmaceutics in Rutgers' College of Pharmacy.

"We attach the drug or drugs to the polymer and then we attach the ligand," said Sinko. "The ligand is like the address on a package, making sure the polymer with its drug or package of drugs goes directly to the diseased cell." When it reaches its destination, the ligand hooks up to the cell surface and permits the polymer and its drug cargo to pass into the cell, the researcher said.

Sinko and his collaborators, Michael Leibowitz and Stanley Stein of UMDNJ-Robert Wood Johnson Medical School, have also shown that without the targeting ligands, the drug-polymers are unable to penetrate cells, a discovery that led to the first patent for a drug-delivery system this past summer plus many pending patents.

When injected under the skin, the polymer gel drug carrier forms a tiny lump or "button" that se

Contact: Kevin P. Hyland
Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey

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