Thanks to a five-year, $3 million research grant, a team of UD engineers will develop approaches to improve delivery of therapeutics to treat post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

Researchers from the University of Delaware’s College of Engineering were awarded a five-year, $3 million R01 research grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to improve the delivery and targeted release of therapeutics to treat post-traumatic osteoarthritis.

The project lead is Kristi Kiick, Blue and Gold Distinguished Professor of the Department of Biomedical Engineering, in collaboration with co-PI Christopher Price, associate professor of biomedical engineering.

Post-traumatic osteoarthritis is a type of joint disease that often occurs after major injury to a joint, including accidents and sports injuries like ACL ruptures, or following long-term joint over-use. Symptoms, including cartilage degeneration, can be painful, debilitating and life-altering, and there are presently no therapeutics capable of preventing or slowing the progression of this form of arthritis.

Part of the challenge of finding new treatments for post-traumatic osteoarthritis is that drug targeting to the joint is very poor, and even drugs directly injected into joints are rapidly cleared, meaning that their efficiency is low and high doses must be used to treat these conditions.

To address this challenge, the Kiick and Price labs have developed a novel delivery paradigm for administering therapeutics via intra-articular injection. By using unique peptide-based materials (ones that are based on proteins that make up mammalian tissue), the team has developed cargo-carrying nanocontainers that will target therapeutics to damaged collagens at the site of injury while controlling their drug release through external temperature changes.

Thanks to this new NIH R01 grant, the researchers will conduct fundamental research on the delivery of candidate disease-modifying drugs via this nanocarrier system and will establish their effectiveness in treating post-traumatic osteoarthritis. The long-term goal is to improve patient outcomes by enhancing treatment efficacy, prolonging joint health and lowering healthcare costs.

“The lack of effective disease-modifying treatment strategies for post-traumatic osteoarthritis is a major obstacle in preventing the debilitating joint degeneration that occurs in roughly fifty percent of patients after injury,” said Price. “It is our hope that the novel nanocarrier system we are developing will overcome several of the hurdles that have so far limited the ability to prevent the initiation and progression of post-traumatic osteoarthritis after injury.”

This research will also provide a foundation for the more generalized use of this collagen-targeting drug carrier platform, with potential implications in treating a broad range of diseases and pathologies characterized by collagen damage or atypical collagen remodeling.

“We are excited to move our technologies closer to clinical application with this support from the NIH,” said Kiick.  “Our work will offer new opportunities in the long term to treat post-traumatic osteoarthritis and slow disease progression, improving mobility for the millions of adults, both young and old, affected by this disease.”

The Research Project (R01) grant is the oldest grant mechanism used by the NIH and is designed to support health-related research and development based on the Institute’s mission.