The hydrogel system acts as a buffer to the drug doxorubicin and delivery system, helping reduce unwanted side effects and has the potential to improve chemotherapeutic treatments. (Credit: Vikas Srivastava)

A new hydrogel-based delivery system balances the acidic environment in a tumor and greatly enhances the cancer-fighting activity of the chemotherapeutic drug it encapsulates in lab experiments.

The hydrogel system, which is injectable, acts as a buffer to the drug doxorubicin and directly delivers it to malignant tumors, helping to reduce unwanted side effects that occur when the drug isn’t released directly in the targeted site. The researchers say the hydrogel, which was designed to balance pH levels, has the potential to substantially improve chemotherapeutic treatments and reduce the risk of aggressive cancers spreading in the body by neutralizing acid levels in tumors.

Doxorubicin is toxic and when administered through the current practice of intravenous delivery, it doesn’t discriminate between cancer cells and non-cancerous healthy cells, leading to significant side effects. Compounding these challenges is that there is no current method to directly balance acidic pH levels in cancerous tumors.