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Ultrasound boosts skin’s permeability to drugs

17 September 2012

Using ultrasound waves, MIT engineers have found a way to enhance the permeability of skin to drugs, making transdermal drug delivery more efficient.

In the new study, the MIT team found that combining high and low frequencies offers better results

This technology could pave the way for noninvasive drug delivery or needle-free vaccinations, according to the researchers. Ultrasound can increase skin permeability by lightly wearing away the top layer of the skin, an effect that is transient and pain-free. 

In a paper appearing in the Journal of Controlled Release, the research team found that applying two separate beams of ultrasound waves — one of low frequency and one of high frequency — can uniformly boost permeability across a region of skin more rapidly than using a single beam of ultrasound waves. 

Two frequencies are better than one

When ultrasound waves travel through a fluid, they create tiny bubbles that move chaotically. Once the bubbles reach a certain size, they become unstable and implode. Surrounding fluid rushes into the empty space, generating high-speed 'microjets' of fluid that create microscopic abrasions on the skin. In this case, the fluid could be water or a liquid containing the drug to be delivered.

In recent years, researchers working to enhance transdermal drug delivery have focused on low-frequency ultrasound, because the high-frequency waves don’t have enough energy to make the bubbles pop. However, those systems usually produce abrasions in scattered, random spots across the treated area. 

In the new study, the MIT team found that combining high and low frequencies offers better results. The high-frequency ultrasound waves generate additional bubbles, which are popped by the low-frequency waves. The high-frequency ultrasound waves also limit the lateral movement of the bubbles, keeping them contained in the desired treatment area and creating more uniform abrasion.


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