Some of the needles being developed are hollow and deliver medicine into the body the way a regular hypodermic needle does. Others would just be coated with the medication and would be absorbed into the body from contact with it. Patches could even be unmedicated themselves but be used to poke tiny holes in the skin. Then medicines could be smeared on and left to be absorbed through the tiny holes.

Different methods

Like other methods being developed, the drugs will be delivered to the immune cells just under the skin’s surface that are more effective targets for vaccinations than where that stuff goes now. It is sad, even tragic, that all these years doctors and nurses have been pushing hard, painful needles right past this level into deeper levels of skin that are not even as good at stirring up the required immune response.

Which material to use

It is not yet certain exactly what material is best for microneedles. Experiments are being done with glass, silicon, carbon nanotubes biodegradable polymers, and metals. Each material has its advantages and disadvantages. Researcher Professor Mark Prausnitz favors metal microneedles because they are strong and have a low chance of causing allergic reactions. But polymer needles also have an advantage. Because they are biodegradable if the tips snap off while being inserted one’s body will just absorb it.

The patches could also be used for delivering antibiotics, insulin, and other drugs. There are plans to experiment with a device similar to the insulin delivery watch that is being developed that will not only deliver insulin at a timed interval, but also test blood sugar to know how much to deliver.

The George lab has licensed the process to a company in Massachusetts called Biovalve. Other companies are working on their own versions. 3M is working on a version. Johnson and Johnson are working on a version. None have been FDA approved yet for general use. Hurry up, science!