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Drug Dev Ind Pharm. 2002 Jul;28(6):621-30.

Alginate in drug delivery systems.

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  • 1Institute of Pharmacy, University of Oslo, P.O. Box 1068, Blindern, 0316 Oslo, Norway.


Alginates are established among the most versatile biopolymers, used in a wide range of applications. The conventional use of alginate as an excipient in drug products generally depends on the thickening, gel-forming, and stabilizing properties. A need for prolonged and better control of drug administration has increased the demand for tailor-made polymers. Hydrocolloids like alginate can play a significant role in the design of a controlled-release product. At low pH hydration of alginic acid leads to the formation of a high-viscosity "acid gel." Alginate is also easily gelled in the presence of a divalent cation as the calcium ion. Dried sodium alginate beads reswell, creating a diffusion barrier decreasing the migration of small molecules (e.g., drugs). The ability of alginate to form two types of gel dependent on pH, i.e., an acid gel and an ionotropic gel, gives the polymer unique properties compared to neutral macromolecules. The molecule can be tailor-made for a number of applications. So far more than 200 different alginate grades and a number of alginate salts are manufactured. The potential use of the various qualities as pharmaceutical excipients has not been evaluated fully, but alginate is likely to make an important contribution in the development of polymeric delivery systems. This natural polymer is adopted by Ph.Eur. It can be obtained in an ultrapure form suitable for implants. This review discusses the present use and future possibilities of alginate as a tool in drug formulation.

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