Wearable ultrasound skin patch lets drugs bypass stomach
Apr. 21, 2023.
2 min. read Interactions
A radical wearable alternative to delivering drugs like insulin painlessly and quickly
MIT researchers have developed a wearable patch that applies painless ultrasonic waves to the skin, creating tiny channels that drugs can pass through. This design could also be adapted to deliver hormones and muscle relaxants, and for wound healing, pain relief, or other medical and cosmetic applications.
The skin is an appealing route for drug delivery because it allows drugs to go directly to the site where they’re needed — not via the complex stomach route. The conformable ultrasound patch (cUSP) consists of four piezoelectric elements embedded in a poly(dimethylsiloxane (PDMS) substrate, a silicone-based polymer that can adhere to the skin without tape:
“The main benefit with skin is that you bypass the whole gastrointestinal tract,” says Aastha Shah, co-lead author of a paper in Advanced Materials. “With oral delivery, you have to deliver a much larger dose in order to account for the loss that you would have in the gastric system. This is a much more targeted, focused modality of drug delivery.”
Reaching the bloodstream directly
With the current version of the device, drugs can penetrate a few millimeters into the skin, making this approach potentially useful for drugs that act locally within the skin. Those could include niacinamide or vitamin C, which is used to treat age spots or other dark spots on the skin, or topical drugs used to heal burns.
With further modifications to increase the penetration depth, this technique could also be used for drugs that need to reach the bloodstream, such as caffeine, fentanyl, or lidocaine, and for delivering hormones such as progesterone. The researchers are now exploring the possibility of implanting similar devices inside the body to deliver drugs to treat cancer or other diseases.
No more sticks
The researchers are also working on further optimizing the wearable patch, in hopes of testing it soon on human volunteers. “After we characterize the drug penetration profiles for much larger drugs, we would then see which candidates, like hormones or insulin, can be delivered using this technology, to provide a painless alternative for those who are currently bound to self-administer injections on a daily basis,” Shah says.