Medicated chewing gum the future of prescription drugs? Robotic ‘mouth’ could make it reality

BRISTOL, United Kingdom — Modern robots can do all sorts of tasks that make our lives easier. From driving cars to flipping burgers, automation takes many things off the daily to-do list. Despite all the convenience, do humans really need a robot to chew for us too? Scientists in the United Kingdom say yes, and those mechanical jaws are now helping to create a new wave of medications — delivered by chewing gum.

Researchers at the University of Bristol say medicated chewing gum is a very effective way of getting drugs into a patient’s body. The problem is there’s no proven method of testing how well gum releases medicine into the mouth. Without a “gold standard” to use, the U.K. team is examining how well a motorized mouth does the job.

Chew as the humans chew

The study in IEEE Transactions on Biomedical Engineering tests a robot built specifically to chew just like humans do. The robo-jaw comes with its own teeth, mimics human chewing motions, and even produces artificial saliva.

A close up of the humanoid chewing robot. (Photo credit: Dr Kazem Alemzadeh, University of Bristol)

During experiments, researchers say the “mouth” allows them to measure how much chemical is being released into the saliva. The study authors add this invention can help limit danger to human test subjects while scientists experiment with drug doses in gum.

“Bioengineering has been used to create an artificial oral environment that closely mimics that found in humans,” lead researcher Dr. Kazem Alemzadeh says in a university release.

“Our research has shown the chewing robot gives pharmaceutical companies the opportunity to investigate medicated chewing gum, with reduced patient exposure and lower costs using this new method.”

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Gum goes fast, even if it’s medicated

Researchers use xylitol, an artificial sweetener, infused in the gum as their “medication” in the study. The team finds their mechanical jaw and human participants produce a similar release rate of xylitol during the chewing process.

They also reveal, no matter how you chew, the greatest amount of xylitol is released within the first five minutes. After 20 minutes, only a small amount of chemical remains inside the gum.

The Bristol researchers say taking medicine orally is the easiest way of treating patients. With this tool, they hope to give the world’s pharmaceutical companies something new to chew on.

“The most convenient drug administration route to patients is through oral delivery methods. This research, utilizing a novel humanoid artificial oral environment, has the potential to revolutionize investigation into oral drug release and delivery,” co-author Nicola West explains.

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