A skin patch lined with “microneedles” may someday offer a painless alternative to hypodermic needles, according to scientists working on the concept.
The technique could make flu shots a thing of the past, and treatment of diseases such as diabete safer and more effective, the researchers said. “It’s our goal to get rid of the need for hypodermic needles in many cases and replace them with a patch that can be painlessly and simply applied by the patient,” Mark Prausnitz, of the Georgia Institute of Technology, said in a news release.
“If you can move to something that’s as easy to apply as a Band-Aid, you’ve now opened the door for people to self-administer their medicine without special training. Each microneedle is a few hundred microns long, about the width of a few strands of human hair. Incorporating them in an easy-to-use patch could have many applications, and possibly replace yearly trips to the doctor for flu shots.
“Although it would probably first be used in a clinical setting, our vision is to have a self-administered flu vaccine patch. So instead of making an appointment with your doctor to get your flu shot, you can stop by the pharmacy or even get a patch in the mail and self-apply. We think that could very much increase the vaccine coverage since it would be easier for people to be vaccinated,” Prausnitz said.
In tests on mice, the microneedle patch was as effective as traditional injections.
“Toward the goal of a flu vaccine patch, we are continuing the animal studies, but we’re also working toward our first human trial, which we hope to do in 2010,” Prausnitz said.
The microneedle patch could also be used for delivering medication to people with macular degeneration, the researchers added. Currently, drugs are injected directly into the eyes every month.
“For the squeamish, there are obvious drawbacks. But more importantly, there are real safety concerns about that kind of repeated injection into the eye,” said Prausnitz.