Research Highlight

Hydrogel to ferry skin cancer drugs

doi:10.1038/nindia.2019.64 Published online 24 May 2019

Researchers have synthesised an injectable hydrogel that can deliver an anti-cancer drug to specific skin tumour cells in mice1. This hydrogel not only increased the efficiency of the drug, but also helped completely shrink the tumours, making it potentially useful for treating skin cancer.

Anti-cancer drugs designed to kill malignant tumours often end up annihilating healthy cells along with cancer cells. To develop a drug-delivery system that can selectively kills cancer cells, scientists from the Indian Institute of Technology in Varanasi, India, invented a drug-carrying hydrogel, using specific sugar molecules, polymers and methyl cellulose gel.

The researchers, led by Pralay Maiti, loaded the hydrogel with the anti-cancer drug paclitaxel. They then tested the efficiency of the hydrogel to deliver the drug to kill specific skin tumour cells in culture and in mice.

In cell-based experiments, the hydrogel released the drug slowly, allowing the drug to attain a cell-killing efficiency of 75 per cent in five days. However, the pure drug achieved a cell-killing efficiency of 30 per cent over the same period.

The drug-loaded gel completely shrank the skin tumours in mice, whereas the pure drug only suppressed the tumour growth.  The gel didn’t reduce body weight and increased the survival rate of the mice, suggesting that this drug-delivery option is more efficient than pure drug alone.

Besides being an efficient drug carrier, the drug-loaded hydrogel didn’t exert any toxic effects on vital organs such as the kidneys and the liver in mice. This drug-delivery system could also be used to deliver anti-cancer drugs for treating other types of cancers, says Maiti.


1. Shukla, A. et al. Third generation cyclodextrin graft with polyurethane embedded in hydrogel for a sustained drug release: complete shrinkage of melanoma. ACS. Appl. Bio. Mater.2, 1762-1771 (2019)