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Painless Skin Patch for Direct Drug Delivery Could Eliminate Injections and Oral Medication

By HospiMedica International staff writers
Posted on 19 Oct 2023
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Image: The patch is smaller than a pound coin and is covered in barely visible microneedles (Photo courtesy of University of Bath)
Image: The patch is smaller than a pound coin and is covered in barely visible microneedles (Photo courtesy of University of Bath)

A cost-effective microneedle skin patch that can administer the medication directly into the body might soon make injections or pills unnecessary. These patches which could be available for public use in the next five to 10 years may also be able to deliver vaccines and monitor hormone levels.

A research team led by scientists at the University of Bath (Bath, UK) has developed the unique microneedle patches using hydrogel, or a gel-like substance with water as its liquid component. Instead of a separate reservoir, the active ingredient is encapsulated within the hydrogel microneedle structure. The patch is also cheaper than other microneedle patches available in the market, primarily because it is made using 3D printed molds, which are easy to customize, thereby reducing the overall cost. The patch is smaller than a pound coin and features nearly invisible microneedles that painlessly penetrate the skin's initial surface layers. When these water-attracting ("hydrophilic") needles come into contact with bodily fluids below the skin, they swell and release a precise dosage of drug into the body.

Tests conducted at the University of Bath showed that the patch could effectively deliver antibiotics to combat two types of dangerous bacteria: E. coli and Staphylococcus aureus. Interestingly, the patch also has the ability to draw out small amounts of fluid from under the skin for medical testing, which could be useful for applications like monitoring lactate levels in patients with infections. The team continues to improve the design of these microneedle patches which can offer a superior method for drug delivery over conventional means. The researchers expect the patches to be versatile enough to administer medications that circulate the entire body or need to be more localized. The patches also have the potential to be used for delivering vaccines and monitoring hormone levels.

“We can also see there being a role for these patches in the health and wellness fields,” said Bath Chemical Engineer Dr. Hannah Leese. “I can picture the day people have microneedles under their smartwatches to detect fluctuations in the stress hormone, cortisol.”

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