A new technology could free diabetics and cancer patients from the daily necessity of painful routine injections by releasing the required drug dosage over six months.

University of Cambridge researchers have developed injectable, reformable and spreadable hydrogels which can be loaded with proteins or other therapeutics and can last a maximum of six month.

The hydrogels contain up to 99.7 per cent water by weight, with the remainder primarily made up of cellulose polymers held together with cucurbiturils, barrel-shaped molecules which act as miniature ‘handcuffs,’ the journal Biomaterials reports.

“The hydrogels protect the proteins so that they remain bio-active for long periods, and allow the proteins to remain in their native state,” says Oren Scherman, a Cambridge chemist, who led the research.

“Importantly, all the components can be incorporated at room temperature, which is key when dealing with proteins which denature (change their composition) when exposed to high heat,” adds Scherman, according to a Cambridge statement.

The hydrogels developed by Scherman, Xian Jun Loh and doctoral student Eric Appel are capable of delivering sustained release of the proteins for up to six months, compared with the current maximum of three months. The rate of release can be controlled according to the ratio of materials in the hydrogel.

The research has been patented by Cambridge Enterprise, the university’s commercialisation group.