**Caution** If you scroll you will see a graphic veterinarian medicine image**
Xerostomia, also known as dry mouth, is painful, embarrassing, and has a negative impact on a person’s quality of life. It can cause dental problems, like increased tooth decay and acid erosion of teeth as well as symptoms such as bad breath and altered taste sensations. Polymer Solutions was contacted by a dentist, Dr. Guy Levy, who had treated patients suffering from xerostomia for years and was dissatisfied with the limited treatment options. Those options included placing a wet rag in the person’s mouth, artificial saliva squirted into the mouth, or the application of a Vaseline-like product inside ones mouth. Dr. Levy believed materials science offered a better solution; it simply had yet to be discovered.
When we began this polymer synthesis project we were given some very basic initial criteria for a potentially viable solution to the dry mouth problem. At all times we were clear on the bottom line: Remove the embarrassment and discomfort caused to persons suffering from xerostomia. The type of product, duration of its usefulness, cost per application, and other criteria evolved during this iterative and collaborative process.
We utilized fundamental principles of polymer synthesis and analysis to develop a unique material for Dr. Levy and his subsequent company, Soluble Systems. A selection of acrylate-based monomers, a crosslinking agent, a polymerization initiator, and a two-part polymerization medium were used to produce a hydrogel. The specific chemical components and processing method resulted in a white-colored, tasteless, soft but strong hydrogel that contained virtually no residual monomers and was inherently resistant to microbial growth.
A hydrogel is like a molecular sponge. In looking at a hydrogel material one sees what looks like a solid form. However, the hydrogel has tiny pores throughout its structure that are interconnected to create a vast network of pathways for water and other small molecules to be absorbed and retained. The design of the system also allows for presaturation of the hydrogel, so that in the final application moisture and medicaments are released. The selection of the chemicals used to make the hydrogel, together with the specific process steps, creates the chemical and physical structure of hydrogels. These are the variables that allow material scientists to customize the properties of a novel hydrogel to a specific range of applications.
The hydrogel relieves the discomfort of xerostomia by holding a sufficient amount of water that is released slowly over time so that a person can have many hours or relief during the day. At night, the hydrogel allows a person to rest comfortably, without the issues of dry mouth, by releasing water.
As a result, the hydrogel is very useful for the intended application of treating xerostomia in patients who need relief from inadequate saliva production and who, in some cases, also have a highly sensitive intraoral cavity. The hydrogel, based on experimentation and analysis, was also found to resist microbial growth, an additional advantage for a variety of applications. This unique composition of matter is protected by U.S. Patent 6,592,860.
While this hydrogel was initially developed with one specific application in mind, the treatment of xerostomia, we quickly realized this material was well poised for other medical applications. Another mode of use for the hydrogel was for a hydrated matrix to deliver moisture and adsorbed medicaments to a wound. Modifications to the original xerostomia hydrogel created a unique platform of materials for wound care, which resulted in a product-line, known as TheraGauze. TheraGauze protects an injury from infection while simultaneously regulating the moisture needed to heal the wound. Too little moisture can cause a wound to dry out and can also cause wound dressings to stick, creating reinjury at each dressing change. Too much moisture can lead to the softening and breakdown of skin. It is important that one find the optimal moisture balance to promote healing and that is exactly what TheraGauze achieves with hydrogel technology.
It is one thing to discuss in theory how technology, such as that utilized in TheraGauze, is able to improve patient outcomes. It is another to witness that technology in action, first hand. It just so happened that one of the inventors of this hydrogel and the founder of Polymer Solutions, Dr. Jim Rancourt, had a family pet that developed a large mast cell tumor. Kenize, a yellow lab, had a significant and traumatic injury to her leg because of the tumor (i.e. she tried to eat the tumor away, with ghastly results). The veterinarian was unsure she could offer any treatment to mitigate the serious wound. On his own initiative, Rancourt applied TheraGauze to the wound site and the transformation was nothing short of miraculous. The veterinarian was in disbelief over the transformation that occurred. It was amazing to witness firsthand how this polymer technology had the power to promote healing and a better quality of life. The use of the hydrogel enhanced rapid healing on what had been a ghastly injury site.