When a person loses an arm or a leg and prepares for a transplant, rejection is always a concern. Patients must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of their lives to fight rejection, but the drugs can wreak havoc on the rest of the body.

Now scientists have developed a new way to deliver the drugs to protect against rejection, changing lives in the process. Including Richard Mangino’s.

Painting and drawing is truly a gift for Mangino. Each stroke is created without his hands.

“When you have no hands, even though I felt like I could do what everybody else could do, people look at you like, ‘Well, he’s got no hands,’” Mangino said.

But the quadruple amputee didn’t let that stop him. He is still painting with a hook, and four years ago he became the first successful double hand transplant patient.

“There are over 7 billion people on the planet, and they’re not giving out hands everywhere. I was going to get them,” he said.

Mangino can now easily mow his lawn, play piano and take a drive.

Like other transplant patients, Mangino must take immunosuppressant drugs for the rest of his life. Jeff Karp, associate professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, says drugs can damage the liver and kidneys.

But researchers have developed a new hydrogel technology that can deliver immune suppressant drugs locally to minimize toxic effects.

“And we engineered it in such a way that it would only release the drugs in the presence of inflammation,” Karp said.

Karp says the new gel could potentially be injected just twice a year, rather than patients having to take daily pills.

“That’s huge to people because we all just want to be like everybody else,” Mangino said.

In a study in rats, researchers found the drug-infused gel to be three times as effective as injecting the drug alone. Karp believes human trials could be three to five years away.