Giovanni Traverso

Giovanni Traverso

Imagine swallowing a pill today that continues releasing the daily dose of a medicine you need for the next week, month or even longer. Researchers from the Brigham, in collaboration with investigators at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, have developed a long-acting drug delivery capsule that may help to do just that in the future.

Upon testing the capsule in preclinical models, researchers discovered it safely stayed in the stomach and slowly released a medication for up to 14 days. The results were published in Science Translational Medicine last month.

“We want to make it as easy as possible for people to take their medications over a sustained period of time. When patients have to remember to take a drug every day or multiple times a day, we start to see less and less adherence to the regimen,” said co-corresponding author C. Giovanni Traverso, MB, BChir, PhD, a gastroenterologist and biomedical engineer in BWH’s Division of Gastroenterology. “Being able to swallow a capsule once a week or once a month could change the way we think about delivering medications.”

Traverso and his colleagues developed a capsule that is about the size of a fish oil capsule when swallowed. Once inside the stomach, the capsule unfolds into a star-shaped structure too large to exit the stomach immediately, but designed to allow food to continue passing through the digestive system.

“The gastrointestinal tract is a strong, durable passageway through the body. We designed the capsule to pause its transit in the stomach to allow for more controlled drug delivery and absorption, before passing through the GI tract without any harm,” said Traverso.

If successful in humans, the benefits of the capsule extend far beyond convenience. Early findings suggest it may also provide a new way to combat malaria and other infectious diseases.

As part of the study, the multidisciplinary research team – which included experts in biomechanical engineering, pharmaceutical sciences, infectious disease modeling, polymer chemistry and health care innovation – tested the capsule’s efficacy in diffusing a medication called ivermectin. The drug is used to combat several kinds of parasites, including the parasitic worms that cause river blindness, an eye and skin disease found mostly in Africa and transmitted by a fly that breeds near fast-flowing rivers and streams.

Ivermectin has also been shown to reduce malaria transmission, as the drug is toxic to the mosquito species that spread malaria. The concentrations of ivermectin in the blood of humans taking the drug are high enough to kill mosquitoes that bite them. Being able to keep the drug in the body for longer periods – something the capsule aims to enable – could offer greater protection, researchers found.

Traverso and his colleagues envision potential applications for the capsule beyond infectious disease, including chronic diseases such as psychiatric disease, heart disease, renal disease and more. The team is also interested in continuing to develop the system so that it can provide the drug for one month or longer.

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