“Painless” Patch Injects Medicine for You

Last time you looked at your printer, I don’t know if you knew the same technology would some day provide you with a painless way to be injected with medicines. Engineers at HP, using a patented inkjet printing system, have configured a medicinal patch to allow almost any kind of preparation to get into your system without the telltale pain from a syringe. Even better, providing there are more clinical tests (there are), we could see this applicator in only a few years.

The application method is quite ingenious, actually. Pain receptors lie under your skin at the dermal layer, yet drugs only need to break the upper stratum corneum to make it into your bloodstream. By using 150 “microneedles”, the patch penetrates the stratum corneum without making it to the dermal layer, where you would feel the pain from a normal syringe, and simply injects the drugs into the epidermal layer. The chief difference is the size of the needles themselves: Normal syringes have always far bypassed the stratum corneum and disturbed the layers below, but these microneedles just aren’t long enough to do so.

On top of the painless application of drugs, you could see everything from microchip-controlled dosing to multiple blends of drugs being held on one patch. Hp has already demonstrated with their prototype that it can carry both insulin and glycogen simultaneously (glycogen is the counteracting agent for insulin). A read out from a blood test could send a signal to the chip to pump more insulin, or if too much is detected for a specific sugar level, glycogen would be administered. It also wouldn’t be hard to configure a specific time-of-day or dosage for the administration.

The biggest hurdle has to do with safety. The stratum corneum is the bodies’ shield against viruses and bacteria. The effect of putting 160 tiny holes in it, compared to a single one with a syringe, could increase the chances of infection considerably. As Prof. Brian Berry, Univ. of Bradford, put it: “The manufacturers would have to demonstrate that making lots of small holes in the skin wasn’t letting bacteria and viruses in and causing infection.” HP hasn’t figured out that aspect yet, but you could always mix in an antibiotic covering with the patch, and possibly the same salves that boost regenerative healing on Band-Aid!

Either way, there’s many, many potential uses for these microneedles, and it’ll be exciting to see how the use of this technology pans out.


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