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Novel microneedle patch offers fast and effective drug delivery

05 September 2014

Researchers have developed a small adhesive patch topped with minuscule needles that can deliver painkillers or collagen when applied to the skin.

Dr Kang Lifeng of the Department of Pharmacy at NUS holding a microneedle patch in his left hand, and a photomask in his right hand (photo: National University of Singapore)
Dr Kang Lifeng of the Department of Pharmacy at NUS holding a microneedle patch in his left hand, and a photomask in his right hand (photo: National University of Singapore)

The research team, led by Dr Kang Lifeng of the Department of Pharmacy at the National University of Singapore (NUS) Faculty of Science, has successfully developed a simple technique to encapsulate lidocaine, a common painkiller, or collagen in the tiny needles attached to an adhesive patch. When applied to the skin, the microneedles deliver the drug or collagen rapidly into the skin without any discomfort to the user.

This innovation could be used clinically to administer painkiller non-invasively to patients, or in home care settings for patients suffering from conditions such as diabetes and cancer. In addition, the novel transdermal delivery system could also be used for cosmetic and skincare purposes to deliver collagen to inner skin layers.

Laboratory experiments showed that the novel microneedles patch can deliver lidocaine within five minutes of application while a commercial lidocaine patch takes 45 minutes for the drug to penetrate into the skin. The shorter time for drug delivery is made possible as the miniature needles on the patch create micrometre-sized porous channels in the skin to deliver the drug rapidly. As the needle shafts are about 600 micrometres in length, they do not cause any perceivable pain on the skin.

The patch also comprises a reservoir system to act as channels for drugs to be encapsulated in backing layers, circumventing the premature closure of miniaturised pores created by the microneedles. This facilitates continued drug permeation. In addition, the size of patch could be easily adjusted to encapsulate different drug dosages.

By delivering painkillers faster into the body through the skin, patients could potentially experience faster pain relief. In addition, enabling a larger amount of lidocaine to permeate through the skin could potentially reduce the time needed to apply the patch and this reduces the likelihood of patients developing skin irritation.

The NUS team has also conducted a study to explore the patch's effectiveness in delivering collagen into skin.

The research team intends to conduct clinical testing of the painkiller patch to further ascertain its effectiveness for clinical applications. They will also be conducting clinical studies to examine the efficacy of delivering collagen for cosmetic and skincare purposes.

The researchers have filed a patent for their technique through the NUS Industry Liaison Office, which is part of NUS Enterprise.

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