A team of Rutgers engineering engineers may have solved one of the biggest barriers to delivering more medicine and vaccines via skin patches by developing a technological advancement in the tiniest of places.
The 13-member team has devised a way to more efficiently coat extremely small surfaces — such as microneedles on a medical patch — with liquids such as small molecule drugs, and proteins like monoclonal antibodies that gained attention for treating COVID-19.
This could allow patients to give themselves medicine that would otherwise require an injection or IV infusion. It may also lower the costs of each dose.
Skin patches are nothing new. They have been used for decades in a variety of ways — one of the more common is the nicotine patch worn by those trying to quit smoking. And plenty of drugs or vaccines are administered without a needle, such as an oral polio vaccine given to mostly older children and adults in developing countries.
Microneedles on skin patches are painless and easy for patients to administer themselves. A 2021 study by Korean scientists found that microneedles improve drug delivery, but conceded that the dose is limited because of the size of the needles.
The Rutgers engineers developed a way to more accurately spray substances on microneedles by controlling both the target better and the electrical properties of microscopic particles that are being deposited. The flowing liquid has a high voltage sent through it, converting it into fine particles that evaporate as they travel to the needles.
“Being able to deposit with 100% efficiency means none of the material would be wasted, allowing devices or vaccines to be coated in this way,” said Sarah Park, an engineering doctoral student and one of the paper’s authors. And since the coating is dry, researchers believe the patches could be useful in harsher climates since they would be less prone to being ruined.
The next step is to begin clinical trials to compare the microneedle approach to syringe-delivered medicine and vaccines. After that, the technology would likely have to go through an approval process by the Food and Drug Administration.
“With the results in our paper showing no significant functional degradation of several payloads, we anticipate that there should not be any large regulatory concern,” he said.