By Ed Cullinane
Scientists could signal the end of needles after developing an innovative new skin patch that painlessly delivers drugs to the body.
The “microneedle” skin patch developed by scientists at the University of Bath delivers a controlled dosage of medicine directly into the body, eliminating the need for injections or oral medication.
It is hoped that the patches, which are described in the journal Biomaterials Advances, will be ready for public use within the next five to 10 years.
Funded by funded by EPSRC and Abbott Diabetes Care, the new patches are made from a new substance “hydrogel” – a gel-like substance in which water forms the liquid component.
They can also be 3D printed, making them more affordable than existing commercially available microneedle patches.
A photo of the patch shows how it it smaller than a pound coin, featuring visible microneedles which painlessly pierce the first few layers of skin when applied.
Contact with fluid beneath the skin barrier causes the “hydrophilic” needles to swell, allowing a specific dosage of the chosen drug to enter a patient’s body.
Bath University-based chemical engineer Dr Hannah Leese developed the patches alongside fellow engineers PhD student Joseph Turner, Professor Pedro Estrela and biologist Dr Maisem Laabei.
She says that she can imagine one day everyday Brits wearing patches under their smart watches, monitoring stress hormone changes and other data.
She said: “Injections are invasive and expensive, and they don’t suit everyone. A lot of people are needle-phobic and are understandably reluctant to receive medicine by injection even when treatment is really needed.
“Others are ill-suited to injections – for instance, elderly patients with thin skin.
“Also, sometimes the use of needles can introduce pathogens, such as bacteria, that may cause infections, especially in people with low immunity.”
While people are typically happier to take drugs orally, Dr. Leese says that there can be negative side effects to pills or delays that the new patches could speed up.
She added: “You can experience gastrointestinal side-effects; there is a delay between taking the medication and the drug getting to where it’s needed in the body;
“doses need to be higher because a lot of the formulation is broken down in the gut, and if the patient is taking antibiotics, this can also contribute to antimicrobial drug-resistance.
“Our next step is to continue to refine the microneedle platform and run animal studies before moving to human clinical trials.
“I’m hopeful these patches will be ready for patient use within the next five to 10 years.”
Dr. Leese anticipates that the patches will be able to deliver both drugs that circulate the entire body and drugs that need to remain more localized.
For example; the patches could be used to treat infected areas of the body. There is also scope for the patches to deliver vaccines and to monitor hormone levels.
Dr. Leese said: “We can also see there being a role for these patches in the health and wellness fields,
“I can picture the day people have microneedles under their smartwatches to detect fluctuations in the stress hormone, cortisol.”
Produced in association with SWNS Talker