Here’s some good news for arthritis sufferers. A new gel has been developed that can be injected directly into a joint for treating rheumatoid arthritis.

This new way of treating rheumatoid arthritis or its cousin osteoarthritis is said to give a lot of pain relief in the joints.

Researchers at Brigham and Women’s Hospital (BWH) used a gel called ‘GRAS’ that self-packages a liquid drug into gel globules. There are a lot of advantages to it. When there are arthritic inflammations, the gel releases pain medication in response to the associated enzymes.

Jeffrey Karp, leader of the research and co-director of the Center for Regenerative Therapeutics at BWH, believes that this approach could be helpful for various medical applications including the localized treatment of cancer, cardiovascular disease, and ocular disease. The finding was published in the May 2011 issue of the Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.(JBMR).

The researchers solved the problem by first assessing the important criteria for locally administered arthritis treatment. On top of having the ability to release drug on demand, the delivery vehicle is meant to be injected through a small needle to allow large concentrations of the drug to be released only when needed or when there is pain. The team finally observed that an injectable gel was most promising.

C Praveen Kumar Vemula of BWH, and first author of the paper, highly appreciates the self-assembly approach that whatever exists in solution during the assembly process becomes entrapped.

The current methods used to treat arthritis are are taken orally and take time to work, and can result in general side effects. As high concentrations of the drug are essential to deliver enough to the affected joint, it could lead to toxicity too.

Other methods used are – where a drug is injected into the target area, but it doesn’t have long-lasting effect as it is removed by the body’s proactive lymphatic system. Implantable drug-delivery devices are not effective as they consist of hard materials that could cause flare-ups on their own. And also, these devices release medicine even when it’s not needed.

Positive results

Although the researchers have not tested it on humans yet, they have found that the gel injected into the healthy joints of mice remained steady for nearly two months while withstanding the the wear and tear that is often associated in a moving joint. More tests are being conducted at the moment.

The team has applied for a patent on the finding, which is sponsored by the Center for Integration of Medicine and Innovative Technology (CIMIT) through the U.S. Army and by the Harvard Catalyst Program.

Arthritis is a disease that attacks specific parts of the body and occurs in cycles characterized by flare-ups and then remission. Some 27 million people in the United States alone suffer from rheumatoid arthritis or its cousin osteoarthritis, diseases marked by weakening pain in the joints.

Sources:
1) Brigham and Women’s Hospital
2) Journal of Biomedical Materials Research.(JBMR)