Saturday, December 6, 2014

Why 361 Needles are Better than One

Every time I visit the doctor's office, I am always worried that that day is going to be the day I need to get another shot for something. Although I wouldn't say I am afraid of needles, I would say they definitely are an uncomfortable part of visiting the doctor. About one in ten people have a fear of the hypodermic needle. Additionally, although the needle is an efficient way to administer drugs and take samples, inserting a needle into the body causes pain, increases risk of infection, scarring, bruising, etc. For years, researchers have tried to find an alternative solution to this process. A professor from Queens University Belfast, Ryan Donnelly, seems to have found the perfect solution. 

He created a small, clear plastic patch that is about a half a centimeter across and has 361 tiny, individual needles on it. The patch sits on the tip of your finger and only penetrates the top layer of your skin unlike normal hypodermic needles. The side with needles feels "rough" similar to the feeling of Velcro on the skin. Since they only contact the top layer, they do not contact the nerves and thus the individual feels no pain. Further, the needles do not go into the blood vessels and instead collect interstitial fluid which is sufficient for analysis. 

Penny microneedle and hypodermic needle

This patch and microneedles can be used for drug and vaccine delivery at a lower cost. Since they are easy to administer and would require very little training, anyone could administer drugs and vaccines without risk or damage to blood vessels as  normal needles do. These patches are would reduce the risk of diseases transmitted by repeated needle use since these patches are one time use. After one use, the patch becomes soft and cannot puncture skin again.

microneedle used
For use with vaccines, compounds of interest can be incorporated into the patches when they are first made and then slowly released into the body once they are in contact with interstitial fluid. Further, this patch could get rid of the nnecessityto refrigerate vaccines to prevent bacterial growth. The vaccines inside the polymer patches would be stable in the dry state. Vaccination campaigns could also improve with the use of this technology as it would reduce the costs and hardships of storing and developing conventional liquid vaccines. 

The patches still need to go through clinical trials, but their potential could be revolutionary for health care.


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