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Small needles that could mean big benefits

A team led by researchers from N.C. State has come up with approaches to making "microneedles" that could make them more practical for use in medical devices.

The scientists found two new ways to build antimicrobial properties into the arrays of microscopic needles, which not only cause less pain, but also less tissue damage and inflammation than traditional needles.

Infection has been one of the things holding back their widespread use. That's a big deal because microneedles are touted as having a range of benefits, and could become important components of devices used to treat chronic conditions such as diabetes or Parkinson's disease and make vaccinations not only less painful but more widely used.

The researchers believe the discoveries will prompt the development of new medical applications for microneedles.

One of the new approaches is to build an antimicrobial coating onto the surface of microneedles that are used for long-term use as part of devices such as glucose monitors. The other is to make antimicrobial agents part of a different type of microneedle that is intentionally designed to dissolve on the skin surface after a single use for, say, a vaccination.

Roger Narayan, professor in the joint biomedical engineering department of NCSU's College of Engineering and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is the lead author of the research, which will be presented May 24 at the First International Conference On Microneedles in Atlanta.

Microneedles, he said, could be used as a relatively pain-free and user-friendly alternative to conventional needles in diabetes treatment and could also be used for new technologies for delivering anti-cancer drugs.”

Among other things, the tiny needles have the potential to improve public health in developing countries by making immunization programs safer and easier. Simple-to-apply patches featuring microneedles could replace hypodermic needles, reducing the need for trained medical personnel. They also could eliminate the risk of needles transmitting disease by being improperly reused, as they could be made to simply dissolve after the drug they carry is delivered.

The research was co-authored by Nancy Monteiro-Riviere, professor of investigative dermatology and toxicology at the Center for Chemical Toxicology Research and Pharmacokinetics at NC State, as well as researchers from North Dakota State University, Laser Zentrum Hannover and other institutions.


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