DAVID GREENE, HOST:
OK, this next story was listed on the rundown for our show this morning with the headline Stomach Submarines - definitely grabbed my attention. So these are devices that can make oral medications more effective. And they're just like you might imagine from the name. They act like tiny submarines, diving through the stomach, neutralizing stomach acid and delivering drugs. Researchers say they could be especially important for antibiotic treatments. Here's NPR's Madeline Sofia.
MADELINE SOFIA, BYLINE: Oral antibiotics can be very useful medications - But there's a problem.
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SOFIA: The gurgling acid in your stomach can destroy some antibiotics. In those cases, patients have to take an acid-reducing drug before each dose. Unfortunately, those extra drugs can come with side effects, such as headache, diarrhea and fatigue. Liangfang Zhang was looking for a way around that problem.
LIANGFANG ZHANG: The mission is to deliver the drug without taking some extra drug to neutralize this acid.
SOFIA: Zhang is a professor at the department of nano-engineering at the University of California, San Diego. The solution was a tiny, self-propelled device.
ZHANG: It looks like a mini submarine.
SOFIA: And that mini submarine is loaded up with antibiotic cargo. The clever device actually turns a problematic acid into its own fuel. As the submarine neutralizes the acid, it generates tiny hydrogen bubbles. Those bubbles propel the sub through the stomach, spreading the antibiotic. This is especially helpful in targeting ulcer-causing bacteria that hide out behind a layer of stomach mucus. Normal antibiotics don't actively penetrate that layer, but the submarine does.
ZHANG: Because it's powered and they can penetrate into the tissue.
ZHANG: Once the sub senses it's in the right spot, the antibiotic cargo is unloaded. The drug sub isn't ready for testing in humans yet, but it has been shown to be safe and effective in mice.
Madeline Sofia, NPR News.
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