MIT researchers create a revolutionary gel for safer colonoscopies

Researchers at MIT have developed a new gel, GastroShield, that can be sprayed onto the surgical sites via catheter, through an endoscope. Credit: MIT.

Each year, over 20 million Americans undergo colonoscopy screenings.

This critical procedure helps doctors find and remove potentially cancer-causing polyps, especially those larger than 2 cm.

While colonoscopies have played a huge role in reducing colon cancer rates, they’re not without their risks.

Patients can face complications like gastrointestinal bleeding both during and after the removal of polyps. Now, a breakthrough solution from researchers at MIT offers hope for making these life-saving procedures safer and simpler.

Introducing GastroShield, a sprayable gel developed by MIT scientists in collaboration with Harvard Medical School.

This innovative gel can be applied directly to the surgical areas using an endoscope, creating a durable yet flexible protective layer over the wound.

This barrier not only prevents bleeding after polyp removal but also strengthens the tissue, making the recovery process smoother and safer.

The secret behind GastroShield’s effectiveness lies in its unique formulation.

It’s engineered to bond with the tissue through a combination of covalent and ionic interactions, along with physical adherence.

This ensures the gel remains in place, protecting the wound for days, thus reducing the risk of complications.

The development team, led by Natalie Artzi of MIT and Harvard Medical School, alongside BioDevek, a company started to bring this technology to patients, demonstrated GastroShield’s potential in animal studies.

They found that the gel could seamlessly integrate with existing endoscopic procedures, offering up to a week of wound protection and aiding in tissue healing post-surgery.

But why the need for such a gel? Traditional methods of managing bleeding during polyp removal, like cauterization, can delay healing and lead to further complications.

GastroShield represents a significant advancement, providing a safer alternative that is both effective and easy to use.

The gel comprises two main components: a polymer called pluronic and oxidized dextran.

When sprayed, these substances react instantly, forming a solid gel in less than five seconds that adheres firmly to the tissue while being flexible enough to withstand the digestive tract’s movements.

This “self-healing” ability means the gel can absorb and recover from the forces exerted by peristalsis and the passage of food, ensuring lasting protection.

Beyond its initial application for colonoscopies, GastroShield holds promise for treating other gastrointestinal issues, such as stomach ulcers, and conditions like Crohn’s disease. It could even be used to deliver medications directly to cancerous tissues.

What sets GastroShield apart is not just its effectiveness but also its user-friendly design. It’s stored as a liquid in a ready-to-use kit, requiring no special activation or preparation, making the endoscopic procedure as straightforward as possible.

As BioDevek moves forward with developing GastroShield for human use, the potential benefits of this technology are vast.

Not only could it make colonoscopies and other gastrointestinal surgeries safer, but it also opens up new possibilities for treating a wide range of digestive tract issues.

Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, this research is a significant step forward in medical science, offering hope for millions of patients undergoing gastrointestinal procedures each year.