No More Needles

December 1, 2008 12:00:00 AM PST
For some, it's the worst part of going to the doctor. It's estimated that 10 percent of Americans are afraid -- even terrified -- of needles. It may just be a quick stick, but it can be enough to make some people avoid treatment altogether. Now, science may have a new solution and researchers say it won't hurt a bit.For most, a needle is not a welcome sight, but soon your vaccination or shot of medicine could come from needles so small they're barely visible to the human eye. They're called microneedles.

"A microneedle has a width similar to the width of a hair and has a length that is similar to the width of a hypodermic needle," Mark Prausnitz, Ph.D., a chemical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, explained to Ivanhoe.

Researchers at Georgia Tech are making and testing a variety of patches filled with dozens of microscopic needles. The stainless steel microneedles are cut by lasers and then coated with medicine that's delivered directly into the skin. Other microneedles are made of polymers that deliver the drug then dissolve.

"The real opportunity, I think, for microneedles, is to deliver drugs that would otherwise need an injection, but now you enable patients to administer it themselves," Dr. Prausnitz remarked.

"It felt like there was something on my hand, but I didn't feel any pain," Jyoti Gupta, a study participant said.

Preliminary human trials show microneedles can deliver drugs as well as traditional needles. Now researchers are testing microneedles for diabetics, patients with eye diseases and others who need regular injections. One day, this could be how you get your flu shot.

"Our dream for this is to make something that looks like a band aid and a patch that you could pick up at a pharmacy, apply yourself to the skin after a minute take it off and the vaccine has been delivered," Dr. Prausnitz said. No more painful pokes and pricks? Some say that can't come soon enough.

Georgia Tech and Emory University are working together to develop a microneedle patch for flu vaccinations, with funding from the National Institutes of Health. Researchers say microneedle patches for vaccine and other drugs could be a reality in about five years.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Laboratory for Drug Delivery
www.che.gatech.edu


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