As a graduate student, Anthony Lowman faced a dilemma; pursue polymers or medicine. He chose both. Now a chemical engineering professor at Drexel University, Lowman specializes in hydrogels- versatile blends of gelatinous particles and water. Certain medications, such as insulin, cannot be taken orally because enzymes in the stomach break them down before they can be absorbed into the bloodstream. Lowman created a novel way of shielding insulin inside polymer-based hydrogels. The hydrogels have pores that can hold insulin and open only in response to the high pH of the upper small intestine; there, the insulin diffuses into surrounding tissue. The technology, now in animal testing, could enable patients with type 1 diabetes (more than a million in the United States) to take insulin-filled gel pills in lieu of injections. Lowman is researching a similar approach to delivering drugs for cancer, osteoporosis, and other conditions. In his part-time job as chief technical officer for Gelifex, a Philadelphia-based company he cofounded in 2002, Lowman is designing injectable hydrogels for repairing degenerative discs, the cause of back pain in five million Americans. He recently prepared a gel that could restore disc pressure and function. Clinical trials may begin in late 2004.