Hydrogel Invented to Combat Rheumatoid Arthritis


The scientist from Institute for Basic Science (IBS) has developed a hydrogel to fight rheumatoid arthritis and other diseases. Hydrogel is a jelly-like material that could absorb extra fluids from swelling joints and releases the drugs. The study was published in the journal Advanced Materials.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a long-term autoimmune condition that causes inflammation and deformity of the joints and affects around 1% of the global population. The body's immune system attacks the soft tissue of the joints that leads to accumulation of synovial fluid – a clear liquid lubricates and nourishes the joints, while excess causes swelling and pain. Immune cells at the inflamed joints produce nitric oxide (NO), a gas with various physiological functions.

The lead researcher, KIM Won Jong said that Nitric oxide has a dual nature that could regulate inflammation and protects the human body from external pathogens. While excess might cause toxicity and RA, as well as other autoimmune disorders, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

Present RA treatments include an anti-inflammatory drug that relieves pain and inflammation, but IBS scientists tried a more challenging approach by targeting NO itself. NO is stable for less than 10 seconds in circulation, which escapes before it binding to other molecules.

To tackle this issue, the scientists developed a gel by using acrylamide as a base material and a new cross-linking agent to keep it in place. The polymeric acrylamide hydrogel has little toxicity and could have a large amount of water. The crosslinker (NOCCL) also forms bridges between the acrylamide molecules by creating a net, which enables the gel to hold the drug molecules inside. When NO cleaves the NOCCL bridges, the gel changes its structure, releases the drug and absorbs the new liquid. In addition, the scientists confirmed that NOCCL crosslinker could selectively and sensitively react with NO.

Currently, the scientists are trying to design a nano-sized hydrogel in an RA mouse model that could be used for diseases characterized by overexpression of NO. Furthermore, NO is a polluting gas emitted in vehicle exhaust; hence the nano gel could be used as environmental sensors.