New gel to tackle the side-effects of painkillers

We’re working to ease the possible side-effects of painkillers such as ibuprofen and naproxen with a new groundbreaking gel, developed by an undergraduate in our Department of Chemistry.

In a final year project, MChem student Edward Howe, working in Professor David Smith's research team at York, looked for a way to ease the side-effects of some pain-killing drugs which, in some cases, can cause digestive problems and stomach ulcers. The problems are particularly acute for patients with conditions such as arthritis who may require long-term treatment with painkillers.

The research team came up with an innovative drug release gel which works with the drugs to preserve their pain-killing powers – but ensures that the medicinal effects are released in our slightly alkaline intestines, rather than the more acidic conditions in the stomach.

Stomach lining

Pain relievers such as ibuprofen and naproxen can interfere with the stomach’s natural defences against acidic digestive juices, leaving the stomach lining more vulnerable to damage. The gel aims to delay the drug release until it reaches the more favourable conditions in the lower digestive tract.

Professor Smith said: “Although researchers have used gels before to try to improve the formulation of naproxen, this is the first time such precise control over the location of the release of the drugs has been achieved.”

Edward Howe said: “The research really fascinated me. The prospect of being involved in developing a method to reduce the pain of others filled me with great pride. Understanding the interactions between the gel and the painkillers was very interesting and improved my knowledge of supramolecular chemistry.”

The work was supervised by PhD student Babatunde Okesola whose research is supported by the Wild Chemistry Scholars Fund.

Next steps

The next step for Professor Smith's team is to stabilise the gel in the very acidic conditions found in the stomach so the drugs can transit safely to the intestine.

Professor Smith added: “Perhaps this is something that one of next year's undergraduate project students might solve. As a research-intensive institution, York is committed to its undergraduates carrying out cutting-edge research such as this.”

The research is published in Chemical Communications. 

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The prospect of being involved in developing a method to reduce the pain of others filled me with great pride.”

Edward Howe
Department of Chemistry
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Professor David Smith

Research interests in nanotechnology and medicinal chemistry.

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  • Self-assembled sorbitol-derived supramolecular hydrogels for the controlled encapsulation and release of active pharmaceutical ingredients is published in Chemical Communications

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