People suffering from joint problems such as osteoarthritis tend to take a lot of anti-inflammatory drugs, even though such medications affect their whole body, all of the time. Scientists at the University of Delaware, however, are developing what could be a more effective alternative. It's a hydrogel that can be injected into the joint, and it releases medication only in response to mechanical force – in other words, whenever the joint is used.

In laboratory tests, it was confirmed that when the hyaluronic acid-based hydrogel was compressed, encapsulated drugs that had been mixed into it were discharged into the surrounding environment.

The researchers now hope that if the drug-containing gel were to be injected into the bad knees or hips of arthritis patients (as an example), it would help keep down the inflammation and associated pain as they performed rehabilitative exercises. It wouldn't necessarily be a permanent solution to their problem, but it would allow them to partake more thoroughly in physiotherapy, which hopefully would be a solution.

Animal testing performed at Chicago's Rush University has indicated that the gel is biocompatible – this makes sense, as hyaluronic acid occurs naturally in cartilage.

The research, which is being led by Prof. Xinqiao Jia, was described in a paper recently published in the journal Biomacromolecules. The scientists are now investigating whether the gel could also be used to deliver medication that would help regenerate damaged tissue.

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