Microneedles to the rescue

Seven's On Call with Dr. Jay Adlersberg
September 19, 2008 3:35:19 PM PDT
For some, it's the worst part of going to the doctor - getting a shot. It could even keep them away. But there may be a new solution that researchers say won't hurt a bit. It is estimated that 10 percent of Americans are afraid, even terrified, of needles.

For most, that needle is not a welcome sight.

"I'm not a fan of needles," on patient said.

"I'd say that I don't like needles, and I can't imagine anyone that would," said another.

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 that is similar to the width of a hair," said Dr. Mark Prausnitz, a chemical engineer at the Georgia Institute of Technology. "And has a length that is similar to the width of a hypodermic needle."

Researchers in the Georgia Tech. lab are making and testing a variety of patches filled with dozens of microscopic needles. The stainless steel microneedles are cut by lasers, 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," Prausnitz 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.

"Our dream for this is to make something that looks like a band aid, 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," Prausnitz said.

So no more traditional needles? Some say that can't come soon enough.

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STORY BY: Medical reporter Dr. Jay Adlersberg

WEB PRODUCED BY: Bill King

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