Scientists develop a skin patch that helps deliver drugs into the body without causing pain

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Credit: University of Bath

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Credit: University of Bath

An affordable microneedle skin patch that delivers controlled doses of drugs directly into the body, eliminating the need for injections or pills, has been developed by a team led by scientists at the University of Bath .

It is hoped that the patches are described in the magazine Biomaterials advanceswill be ready for use within the next 5 to 10 years.

What makes microneedle patches unique is that they are made from hydrogel (a gel-like substance in which water forms the liquid component), with the active ingredient encapsulated within the microneedle hydrogel structure rather than in a separate compartment.

They are also more affordable than other commercially available microneedle patches because they are manufactured from a 3D printed mold. Molds produced this way are easy to customize, which helps reduce costs.

Birth is painless

The patch is smaller than a pound coin. Tiny, barely visible needles penetrate the first few layers of skin painlessly. Contact with fluid below the skin barrier causes the ‘hydrophilic’ (water-loving) needles to swell, causing a specific dose of medication to be introduced into the body.

In experiments carried out in Bath, upon swelling, the patches delivered doses of antibiotics that produced a strong response against two types of bacteria known to cause serious Escherichia coli (E. . coli) and Staphylococcus aureus.

The patch also works in reverse, extracting small amounts of fluid from beneath the skin for medical analysis. This can be useful, for example, to monitor levels of lactate (a component of lactic acid) and other chemicals in patients with infections.

Credit: University of Bath

The benefits are clear

Bath chemical engineer Dr. Hannah Leese, who continued to refine the skin patch design with fellow engineers Drs. student Joseph Turner and Professor Pedro Estrela, and biologist Dr. Maisem Laabei said microneedle-based skin patches are an ideal system for drug delivery and have clear benefits over traditional methods. traditional distribution method.

She says, “Injections are invasive and expensive, and they are not right for everyone. A lot of people are afraid of needles and are understandably reluctant to receive medication by injection even when the treatment is practical.” necessity. For example, others are not suitable for injections, elderly patients with thin skin.

“In addition, sometimes the use of needles can carry pathogens, such as bacteria, that can cause infection, especially in people with low immunity.”

She added that people are generally less opposed to taking medications orally, but oral medications also have drawbacks.

She says, “You may experience gastrointestinal side effects; there is a delay between taking the drug and getting it where it is needed in the body; dosages need to be higher because a lot of the formulation breaks down in the gut, and if the patient is taking antibiotics, this can also contribute to antibiotic resistance.”

Towards clinical trials

“Our next step is to continue to improve the microneedle platform and perform animal studies before moving to human clinical trials,” said Dr. Leese. year.”

Dr. Leese predicts that patches will be able to deliver both drugs that circulate throughout the body and drugs that need to remain more localized, such as when there is an infection in a separate part of the skin. There is also scope for patches that deliver vaccines and monitor hormone levels.

“We can also see a role for these patches in the field of health and wellness,” she said. “I can envision the day when people have tiny needles under their smartwatches to detect fluctuations in the stress hormone, cortisol.”

More information:
Joseph G. Turner et al., Microneedles form antibacterial-releasing hydrogels, Biomaterials advances (2023). DOI: 10.1016/j.bioadv.2023.213467

Magazine information:
Biomaterials advances

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