New hydrogel helps reduce breast cancer tumor size in fewer treatments than traditional therapies

Scientists from IBM (NYSE: IBM) and Singapore´s Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology said they have published a breakthrough drug-delivery technique, demonstrating the first biodegradable, biocompatible and non-toxic hydrogel that can deliver treatment more efficiently to people fighting breast cancer.

Approximately 25% of all breast cancer patients have human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a specific type of cancerous cell identified in this study that is considered aggressive because it spreads quickly and has a low survival rate.

Treatment of breast cancer varies according to the size, stage and rate of growth, as well as the type of tumor. There are currently three main categories of post-surgery therapies available: hormone blocking therapy, chemotherapy and monoclonal antibodies (mAbs) therapy.

In the case of antibodies, the drugs are paired with saline and delivered intravenously into the body. Targeting specific cells or proteins, the antibodies block specific cell receptors to destroy cancer cells and suppress tumor growth. However, these drugs are absorbed in the body and have limited lifetimes and effectiveness when injected directly into the bloodstream.

Recognizing this, IBM and IBN scientists developed a novel synthetic hydrogel made up of over 96% water and a degradable polymer that is capable of sequestering a range of cargos from small molecules to large molecules including mAbs.

It also exhibits many of the biocompatible characteristics of water-soluble polymers, which hold form in the body without completely dissolving. This allows the hydrogel to function as a depot for the drug to slow-release its contents in a targeted location directly at the tumor site over weeks instead of days. Once the drug has been delivered, the hydrogel biodegrades naturally and passes through the body.

The IBM nanomedicine polymer program started in IBM´s Research labs four years ago with the mission to improve human health stems from decades of materials development traditionally used for semiconductor technologies. This advance will expand the scope of IBM and the Institute of Bioengineering and Nanotechnology´s collaborative program, allowing scientists to simultaneously pursue multiple methods for creating materials to improve medicine and drug discovery.

The full research paper was published in the peer-reviewed journal Advanced Functional Materials DOI: 10.1002/adfm.201301307.

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