Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Computational Modeling to Design Pharmaceuticals that Require Fewer Dosages for Same Treatment

Controlled release drug delivery is a category of pharmaceutical dosage techniques where the level of medicine in a patient's body is sustained for a long period of time with a single dose. Examples of controlled release delivery include skin patches for nicotine or estrogen that work for days or weeks and intrauterine birth control devices that release a constant supply of hormones for years. These devices are wonderful improvements over traditional dosages forms like pills or injections that require repeated doses. The daily birth control pill is an example of a traditional dosage form that has life-altering consequences for a single forgotten dose. Controlled release drug delivery alleviates pressure on patients to remember every one of the frequent doses. For a chronically forgetful person like me, this is great news. Currently, controlled release drug delivery is only available for a few medicines and generally involves a material (usually plastic) that has to be removed from the skin or from inside the body after all the medicine has been released. I study biodegradable materials that decompose into natural products that are not harmful to the body and do not require removal. The hope is that many types of medications could be delivered with these materials to improve patient convenience for care of chronic conditions and mental illnesses with major consequences of forgetfulness such as schizophrenia and Alzheimer's disease.

I develop mathematical models to design how medicines are released from biodegradable polymer spheres that contain medicine. I use computational experiments to explore conditions that may give the optimal design. Thomas Edison was a prolific American inventor credited with the invention of the light bulb, phonograph, and motion picture camera. Just imagine Edison's impact if he had mathematical models or computer simulations that predicted the best design, saving him hundreds of experiments. Then he might have been able to be as productive as Nikola Tesla (see The Oatmeal for a striking, humorous comparison of Edison and Tesla).

My models combine the biodegradation chemical reactions and transport of the medicine as the spheres dissolve. Because many conditions change in an interdependent manner, the equations describing them cannot be solved through simple calculations. Instead, I use advanced computational recipes or algorithms for accurately approximating the solutions to equations in the model. More computational power enables more sophisticated algorithms, better spatial resolution, and increases in the length of time that can be simulated. These contribute to more accurate predictions for the timing of drug release, which in turn enable more realistic computational experiments to identify best designs for the spheres.

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