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'Micromotors' alter your gut's chemistry to safely deliver medicine

These biodegradable molecular engines use the stomach's own acids for fuel.
Andrew Tarantola, @terrortola
August 16, 2017
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There's a reason diabetics can't take their insulin orally (for the time being): stomach acid is super effective at dissolving it and similar large proteins, like antibiotics. But rather than force patients to pound pints of Maalox or chew a tub of Tums before taking their medicine, a team of researchers at UC San Diego have developed a novel method of getting your medication past the acid by using nearly microscopic drug delivery vehicles which increase the pH as they swim through your stomach.

Conventionally, the medication used to treat maladies like ulcers or bacterial infections, have to be administered alongside a secondary compound known as proton pump inhibitors. These chemicals temporarily halt the production of stomach acid, allowing the medicine to do its work without being destroyed. However, long term use of PPIs can make matters much worse, from headaches and fatigue to anxiety and depression.

UCSD's "micromotors" are made up of a titanium dioxide protective shell surrounding a spherical magnesium core. Above the TiO2 layer is a layer of antibiotic medication and above that,is another layer made up of a positively-charged polymer that helps the motor stick to the gut wall.

Now here's the really cool part. These motors use the stomach's own acid as a fuel source. The magnesium layer reacts to the gastric acid to generate a stream of hydrogen bubbles to produce thrust, while also reducing the amount of acid present. Once the stomach's pH hits the correct level, the motors release their medication and finish dissolving.

These devices are still in the early days of their development so don't expect to have your antibiotics squirming through your belly for a few years yet at least.

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