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Rutgers scientists develop drug-infused ‘nanoscaffolds’ to fight inflammation at the source

Scientists at Rutgers University say they’ve developed a smart drug delivery system that fights inflammation at the site of spinal cord injuries—paving the way for improved treatment of central nervous system injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, and even cancer and diabetes, the team thinks.

Their biodegradable drug delivery implant, tested in a mouse study published in the journal Advanced Materials, is designed to release safe amounts of an anti-inflammatory drug over time, said senior author Ki-Bum Lee, Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology at Rutgers University.

Neuroinflammation—an immune response in the brain or spinal cord—is a common symptom of central nervous system (CNS) injuries and disease. Most treatments fight inflammation by suppressing the immune system, but that can raise the risk of infections, Lee said.

So, the Rutgers team decided to find a way to deliver anti-inflammatory drugs locally and promote tissue healing, too.

The result? Implanted nanoscaffolds that degrade in the body over time, continuously releasing medication to the injury site. As the anti-inflammatory drug gets to work, “the injury site … becomes less hostile to neural cells. Because of this, local cells surrounding the injury may be protected to promote motor-function recovery over a few weeks,” Lee said.

Paired with the anti-inflammatory drug methylprednisolone, the scaffolds helped restore motor function in mice in a matter of weeks, the Advanced Materials study found.

The controlled release over time also helps minimize side effects. If the smart drug delivery system goes mainstream, it could be implanted as part of the multiple surgeries patients with spinal cord injuries receive, Lee added.

The team thinks its drug delivery system could move beyond CNS injury to help tackle inflammation across a wide range of diseases, neurological or otherwise. Anti-inflammatory drugs have shown promise in treating cardiovascular disease, for instance, Lee said. Nanoscaffolds could deliver those meds directly to inflamed sites in the heart or elsewhere in the cardiovascular system.

The platform also has the potential to treat inflammation caused by traumatic brain injuries, cancer and diabetes and could be expanded to tackle Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases, he added.

With a promising mouse study under its belt, the team now aims to get its drug delivery system into human trials, though no official timeline has been set, Lee said.