- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 23, 2000

Someday soon, people are likely to be taking plastic aspirin.
Kathryn Uhrich, a professor of chemistry at Rutgers University, has found a way to recast the essential component of aspirin salicylic acid by stringing together about 100 individual molecules of the substance and causing it to become an elastic, polymer compound.
The new drug is called PolyAspirin, and it acts differently than regular aspirin.
The new concoction has been found to eliminate the stomach bleeding and ulcers that afflict many who need the drug to combat heart disease, reduce arthritic pain and fight discomfort from other inflammatory ailments.
What's more, studies with mice show the polymer aspirin stimulates bone growth.
PolyAspirin isn't merely aspirin in a plastic coating. It is the first plasticlike pill, and it was created through "a process that's hard to explain without drawing pictures," Miss Uhrich says in an interview.
Although researchers anticipate that clinical trials in humans won't begin for about two years, medical scientists already predict great things from the drug.
"I'm enthusiastic about Miss Uhrich's work because basically she has found a way to deliver this strong anti-inflammatory drug directly to the site of inflamed tissue," says Dr. Eleni Kousvelari, chief of biomaterials, biomimetics and tissue engineering at the National Institutes of Health.
"It's a new drug delivery system. And to me, it's promising for the future," Dr. Kousvelari adds.
Miss Uhrich explains that regular aspirin breaks down and releases its active ingredient within 15 minutes of reaching the stomach. There it can affect sensitive stomach tissue.
But in plastic form, the drug maintains its integrity until reaching the intestines, where it can be released to the bloodstream to reduce pain and inflammation with no known harmful effects.
As a practical matter, the discovery means that aspirin users in the future should be able to take smaller PolyAspirin pills and use them less frequently because the drug's effect lasts for 20 hours.
Also, "since aspirin is used to treat inflammation, this could be useful in virtually any condition whose name ends in 'itis,' " says Miss Uhrich.
But the significance of Miss Uhrich's work goes beyond its application to aspirin. As she explains, drug and medical device makers are intensely interested because of the process she has invented.
It's apparent the polymer aspirin can be used as a coating, and it can be manipulated so that it releases its active ingredient quickly or slowly as required.
"That's an advantage. Take the metal stents used in angioplasty. They can be coated with the aspirin so that when they're implanted in an inflamed artery, the active ingredient will slowly release and reduce the swelling," Miss Uhrich says.
The stents are pencil-thin mesh tubes placed in arteries to improve blood flow to the heart and keep the passageway permanently open.
Miss Uhrich says that medical device manufacturers propose coating with polymer aspirin the pins and joints used as implants for securing broken bones. Likewise, dentists see a use for the plastic drug in treating periodontal disease.
There are such obvious practical applications for Miss Uhrich's basic research that Rutgers has established a company called the Polymeric Co. to direct manufacturing, work with partners and handle the administrative chores involved in meeting Food and Drug Administration requirements.
"My idea is for consumers to see this soon. But I'm a research scientist and running a company isn't my kind of work. Rutgers has named me chair of the scientific advisory board," Miss Uhrich said.

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