New knowledge about the gastrointestinal mucus important to humans and animals

With her research on gastrointestinal mucus, Vicky Barmpatsalou, PhD student at SweDeliver, is breaking new ground towards more efficient development of drugs for oral medication and fewer animal experiments in pharmaceutical research.

(Image removed) Vicky Barmpatsalou, PhD student at SweDeliver

Many patients prefer oral medication, a relatively convenient route that is unfortunately often complicated by the harsh environment of the gastrointestinal tract and tight intestinal wall. The fact that many potential drugs that are now under development show low solubility requires alternative formulations for absorption in the colon. A challenge that in turn requires increased knowledge about the nature of the gastrointestinal mucus, something Vicky Barmpatsalou, PhD student at SweDeliver, hopes to provide with the help of residual waste from slaughterhouses.

“Our limited knowledge about colonic mucus is based on studies on rodents. In our research, we map its properties along the entire gastrointestinal tract, and we do this on species that enable the application of the results to the human body. We have now begun to present results with a focus on composition and structure, which in the long run might provide the basis for in vitro models to streamline preclinical drug development. We have chosen to work with samples from waste tissue, and hopefully our research will also contribute to reducing the need for animal studies in pharmaceutical research.”

Vicky Barmpatsalou received her master's degree in Industrial Pharmacy at the National University of Athens. She conducted her master's project focusing on the gastrointestinal transfer at the Drug Delivery & Disposition lab at KULeuven and played an active role when Astellas Pharma validated a novel in vitro gastrointestinal transfer setup. Shortly thereafter, SDDF - the predecessor of SweDeliver - advertised a PhD student position at the intersection of academia and industry, a career opportunity that swayed Vicky Barmpatsalou to move to Sweden and Uppsala.

(Image removed) Vicky Barmpatsalou, The Faculty of Pharmacy

“Uppsala University's research environment in Drug Delivery is ranked among the world's foremost, and that the then relatively new forum that today is SweDeliver already in 2018 showed great potential made my choice easy. Today I can only state that the center meets all my expectations. As a PhD student, being able to work in an international environment with both leading and promising researchers and to receive continuous input from co-supervisors at some of Europe's leading pharmaceutical companies constantly adds new dimensions to my professional progress.”

One of the main objectives of SweDeliver is to build new networks, even far beyond one’s own competence and organisation. For the junior researchers of the competence center, this provides an almost unique opportunity to achieve a broad understanding of the many disciplines and current challenges of drug development. For Vicky Barmpatsalou, it has also meant valuable training in explaining her own research and making it available to nearby disciplines.

“In September, I was invited to present my work at the annual meeting of the European Network on Understanding Gastrointestinal Absorption-related Processes (UNGAP) in Leuven. I felt that the content was well received and the subsequent discussion was very awarding. The meeting also meant a welcome return to meeting physically after 18 months online, and I am convinced that my remaining time in SweDeliver has all the prerequisites to be quite as important for my future career as it has been so far.”


  • Research project Exploring the impact of the Gastrointestinal Mucus on drug absorption: Characterization and development of novel predictive tools

  • Aim  To provide novel insights regarding the nature of the gastrointestinal mucus of preclinical species, with an end goal to develop in vitro models that will enable the assessment of the permeation behavior of poorly soluble drugs through the colonic mucus.

  • Outcome  The acquired knowledge is expected to serve as the basis of the development of novel in vitro tools that can be later used to predict the diffusion profile of advanced drug delivery systems within the colonic mucus. These in vitro models will contribute to the reduction of animal usage in the early stages of drug development.

More information


(Image removed) Vicky Barmpatsalou, PhD student
SweDeliver, Uppsala University

text: Magnus Alsne, pfoto: Mikael Wallerstedt