Best Life: Hydrogels, the new tool to help heal tumors

Published: May. 12, 2020 at 7:46 AM CDT
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HOUSTON, Texas (Ivanhoe Newswire) - Hydrogels, or smart gels, look and feel a lot like jello. When the liquid drugs are suspended in the gelatinous hydrogels and injected into tumors, this medicine sticks around long enough to deliver the right amount of fighter cells, or meds, to battle life-threatening tumors.

Jeffrey Hartgerink, a professor of chemistry and bioengineering at Rice University told Ivanhoe, “The example that everybody knows is JELL-O brand gelatin, right? So, that is a hydrogel and effectively what we do is we make really fancy and expensive versions of JELL-O.”

But these hydrogels are made from a thick, nanofibrous, material that keeps cells and meds in the right place.

“Those nano-fibers make a network that might look like a spider web, or whatnot, and effectively hold the water in place,” Professor Hartgerink illustrated.

Darren Woodside, VP for Research at the Texas Heart Institute elaborated for Ivanhoe, “For instance, if you have melanoma, you could potentially inject one of these hydrogels, that maybe even had some other types of drugs, that could help kill cancer.”

The gels cause an inflammatory reaction in the body and then dissolve and are replaced by functional tissue.

“And not only decreased the tumor here, but help your immune system affect tumors in different parts of the body,” Woodside explained.

In the case of a heart attack, the gels would keep the good cells in place to heal the damage to the heart muscle.

“You could mix the cells with the hydrogel and hopefully, the cells will stick around a little longer,” Woodside clarified.

Rice University helped develop the hydrogels and partnered with the Texas Heart Institute, which defined the body’s responses to the gels. This approach could save cancer patients from undergoing chemo, which is super-toxic.

“The idea behind immunotherapy is that instead of delivering a toxic drug to the body, you manipulate the body’s own immune system and make it more effective at fighting cancer cells,” Professor Hartgerink stated.

These synthetic gels are said to fine-tune the body’s inflammatory response and the researchers say rather than pumping the body with toxic chemo, this manipulation of the body’s own immune system will make the body more effective at fighting cancer cells, without the side effects.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Executive Producer; Donna Parker, Field Producer; Bruce Maniscalo, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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