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Will needles soon be going the way of the dodo? MIT engineers have found a solution that may come as great news for many patients with conditions that require regular injections, patches or other local treatments (and for those of us with trypanophobia). After a few years of research, scientists have discovered a way to enhance the permeability of skin to drugs, making transdermal drug delivery more efficient.
The process involves use of both high and low frequency ultrasound waves that, upon reaching the skin, create tiny bubbles that eventually implode once they reach a critical size. Surrounding fluid then rushes into the empty space, generating high-speed ‘microjets’ of fluid that create microscopic abrasions on the skin. In the case of drug delivery, the fluid would be water or other liquid containing the medicine to be delivered. Both high and low frequencies are necessary to the process as the high frequency waves create the bubbles while the low frequency waves produce enough energy to make the bubbles pop and trigger the delivery process.
This quick and pain-free process could theoretically be used to deliver various drugs such as steroids or cortisol, proteins like insulin, as well as antigens for vaccination in a simple, non-invasive way. It could even be used as a substitute for nicotine patches and replace certain treatments for skin conditions like acne and psoriasis.
The researchers are also working on a prototype for a handheld ultrasound device, freeing medical practitioners from the need of an examination room, which could make it ideal for use in developing countries. Indeed, unlike current vaccination processes involving needles, this innovation does not require the same intense training to be able to administer injections, greatly facilitating the possibilities of vaccination and treatment of diseases.
And lastly, a previous team from the MIT had already developed a single-frequency ultrasound transdermal system that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, setting the stage for a fairly painless approval process (no pun intended). This new method of drug delivery should hopefully make our next doctor’s appointment not so scary after all.
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