Almost 47 million people worldwide are living with dementia – and predictions suggest that these numbers will double every 20 years. Alzheimer’s disease is by far the most common type, accounting for about two-thirds of cases in older people. A person will experience problems affecting their memory, communication and other cognitive abilities.
Sadly, there is no cure for Alzheimer’s disease – and a person’s symptoms will get progressively worse over time. But medications are currently available that may help reduce some symptoms and maximise a person’s quality of life for as long as possible. Our increased understanding of the biology of the disease is also fuelling the development of a wave of new targeted drugs that aim to slow down or stop the progression of the disease.
But developing drug formulations that are easy to take – and can deliver and maintain safe and effective doses within the body – poses challenges for researchers.
Drugs that can be taken by mouth – for example, as pills or capsules – are usually preferred by patients. But the drug will often be rapidly released into the body – leading to short-lived high levels in the bloodstream followed by a sharp fall. So a patient would need to take regular doses, increasing their risk of side effects.
Scientists are aiming to develop innovative oral drug delivery systems that can help maintain constant and effective levels over long periods with a single dose. Clay minerals offer promise as materials for these drug carriers as they are inert, non-toxic, and may also have properties that help induce the release of the active ingredient.
In a new study, published in Applied Clay Science, researchers explore the potential of clay-based nanocarriers for the controlled release of orally administered neuroprotective drugs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.1
The team developed four systems based on two clay minerals (montmorillonite and halloysite) and two potential drugs for treating Alzheimer’s disease. They then tested their effects on human nerve cells grown in the laboratory – showing that they can protect them from damage in a similar manner to pure drugs. However, the team found that drug release occurred very quickly in a simulated gastrointestinal tract.
The researchers then added a biopolymer coating – a blend of alginate from brown algae and the corn protein zein – and showed that alginate–zein@7-azaindole derivate/halloysite nanocomposite beads exhibited controlled drug release along the entire simulated gastrointestinal tract. The team used ultrapure water generated from an ELGA in–house laboratory water purification system to reduce the risk of adding contaminants that may affect their results.
The study suggests that clay-based drug delivery systems with biopolymer coatings offer a promising route for improving the controlled oral delivery of potential new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease. These innovative new drug formulations could help improve the effectiveness of treatment while reducing side effects for patients.
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Garcia–Vazquez R. et al. Clay-based hybrids for controlled release of 7–azaindole derivatives as neuroprotective drugs in the treatment of Alzheimer’s disease. Applied Clay Science 2020; 189: 105541
Dr Alison Halliday
After completing an undergraduate degree in Biochemistry & Genetics at Sheffield University, Alison was awarded a PhD in Human Molecular Genetics at the University of Newcastle. She carried out five years as a Senior Postdoctoral Research Fellow at UCL, investigating the genes involved in childhood obesity syndrome. Moving into science communications, she spent ten years at Cancer Research UK engaging the public about the charity’s work. She now specialises in writing about research across the life sciences, medicine and health.