This "star" may replace daily-dose medication

Each capsule can release medication for up to two weeks – or even longer, if needed(Credit: Melanie Gonick)

Pretty much everyone has at some time had a medication prescribed to them, that they have to take daily over a period of multiple days. The problem is, many people don't remember to take their medicine every day, or they simply don't bother. That's why scientists at MIT, and Brigham and Women's Hospital, have developed a new type of capsule. It only has to be taken once, after which it delivers medication from the stomach for up to two weeks.

At the heart of the technology is a star-shaped assembly that has six rigid polymer arms, each of which is loaded with medication. Those arms are joined together by a biodegradable elastic core, which allows the arms to be folded inward like the ribs of an umbrella. Once the arms are thus folded, the whole thing can be placed inside a standard gelatine capsule and swallowed.

Upon reaching the stomach, the gelatine dissolves, thus releasing the star and letting its arms open back up. In that configuration it's too large to pass out of the stomach, yet it's still unobtrusive enough that it doesn't produce a blockage.

For the next two weeks (or even longer, depending on how the star is made) its arms continuously release their pharmaceutical payload, which is absorbed through the stomach lining. By that point, the star's core has dissolved to the point that the arms break off and proceed into the digestive tract. They're small enough that they will pass harmlessly through it, being excreted with the feces.

In lab tests, capsules loaded with a drug called ivermectin have been successfully tested on pigs. Ivermectin plays a role in the control and treatment of malaria, as it kills any mosquitos that bite the patient while they're taking it. Down the road, it is believed that the capsules could also be used to treat conditions such as neuropsychiatric disorders, HIV, diabetes, and epilepsy – or pretty much anything that requires sustained drug delivery.

The technology is currently being developed by spin-off company Lyndra. A paper on the research was recently published in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

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