Understanding and treating pain has been a difficult process for doctors and physicians for many years. In such a time, a hydrogel designed by Jeff Karp and his team, in the Laboratory for Accelerated Medical Innovation at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, has been deemed revolutionary.

The water based solid material is not only able to carry different drugs within it but also releases the medication depending on the amount of inflammation it has detected. This gel is able to differentiate between injured and healthy flesh, thereby localizing drug delivery on the targeted site. Such a precise mode of drug delivery has many applications in helping people with arthritis, mouth ulcers as well as in limb transplantation.

For a person suffering from arthritis, if the gel is injected on the joint with arthritis, the gel will recognize the pain being experienced depending on the level of inflammation that occurs. When the body undergoes inflammation, it releases enzymes which will then degrade the gel present. Upon degradation, the gel will release the drugs it contains, hence eliciting pain relief to the person.

Another application for this gel is in helping cancer patients with their chemo treatments. One of the side effects of chemotherapy is mucositosis, which is a painful ulcerification and inflammation on the lining of the digestive tract of a patient. Injecting the hydrogel into the patients who have such mouth ulcers can give them pain relief and therefore allow a higher dosage of radiation treatment that is otherwise not possible due to the pain it causes.

In limb transplantation, the scientists experimented on lab rats and used gel that was filled with immunosuppressant drugs. This mode of delivery led to a more localized and highly concentrated dosage on the rats, causing an increase from 33 days to 150 days it took for tissue rejection to take effect. Such cases underpin the vast potential this gel can have in controlling and treating pain in patients.