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Injections for diabetes, cancer could become unnecessary soon

Some medications for these illnesses dissolve in water, making it impossible to carry them through the intestines, which process food and drink.

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It is now possible for cancer and diabetic patients to manage their ailments using pills rather than needles and injections thanks to research at UC Riverside. Some medications for these illnesses dissolve in water, making it impossible to carry them through the intestines, which process food and drink. As a result, these medications can’t be taken by mouth. But UCR researchers have developed a chemical “tag” that can be attached to these medications, enabling them to enter the bloodstream through the intestines.

A little peptide, which resembles a protein fragment, makes up the tag. The discovery was led by Min Xue, a professor of chemistry at UCR. “Because they are relatively small molecules, you can chemically connect them to pharmaceuticals, or other molecules of interest, and use them to deliver those drugs orally,” she said. When the researchers noticed these peptides entering cells, Xue’s lab was researching something unrelated.

“We did not expect to find this peptide making its way into cells. It took us by surprise,” Xue said. “We always wanted to find this kind of chemical tag, and it finally happened serendipitously.” This finding surprised the researchers, according to Xue, because they had previously thought that in order for this kind of delivery tag to be accepted into negatively charged cells, it needed to carry positive charges. Their research with the neutral peptide tag EPP6 disproves that assumption.

The Xue group collaborated with Kai Chen’s group at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California to test the peptide’s capacity to move through the body by administering it to mice. The team documented how the peptide ultimately made its way into the animals’ organs through the blood using a PET scan, a method similar to a whole-body X-ray that is available at USC. The team now intends to show that the tag can accomplish the same thing when attached to a variety of medications after proving the tag successfully crossed the circulatory systems through oral delivery. Preliminary findings that are ‘very compelling’ give us hope that we can further this, added Xue.

Numerous medications, such as insulin, require injection. The scientists are optimistic that their upcoming series of tests will reverse this situation and enable them to add this tag to a wide range of medications and chemicals, altering the way those molecules flow through the body. “This discovery could lift a burden on people who are already burdened with illness,” Xue said.

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