By Anne Trafton
The skin is an appealing route for drug delivery because it allows drugs to go directly to the site where they’re needed, which could be useful for wound healing, pain relief, or other medical and cosmetic applications. However, delivering drugs through the skin is difficult because the tough outer layer of the skin prevents most small molecules from passing through it.
In hopes of making it easier to deliver drugs through the skin, MIT researchers have developed a wearable patch that applies painless ultrasonic waves to the skin, creating tiny channels that drugs can pass through. This approach could lend itself to delivery of treatments for a variety of skin conditions, and could also be adapted to deliver hormones, muscle relaxants, and other drugs, the researchers say.
“The ease-of-use and high-repeatability offered by this system provides a game-changing alternative to patients and consumers suffering from skin conditions and premature skin aging,” says Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the senior author of the study. “Delivering drugs this way could offer less systemic toxicity and is more local, comfortable, and controllable.”
MIT research assistants Chia-Chen Yu and Aastha Shah are the lead authors of the paper, which appears in Advanced Materials, as part of the journal’s “Rising Stars” series, which showcases the outstanding work of researchers in the early stages of their independent careers. Other MIT authors include Research Assistant Colin Marcus and postdoc Md Osman Goni Nayeem. Nikta Amiri, Amit Kumar Bhayadia, and Amin Karami of the University of Buffalo are also authors of the paper.
A boost from sound waves
The researchers began this project as an exploration of alternative ways to deliver drugs. Most drugs are delivered orally or intravenously, but the skin is a route that could offer much more targeted drug delivery for certain applications.
“The main benefit with skin is that you bypass the whole gastrointestinal tract. 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,” Shah says. “This is a much more targeted, focused modality of drug delivery.”
Ultrasound exposure has been shown to enhance the skin’s permeability to small-molecule drugs, but most of the existing techniques for performing this kind of drug delivery require bulky equipment. The MIT team wanted to come up with a way to perform this kind of transdermal drug delivery with a lightweight, wearable patch, which could make it easier to use for a variety of applications.