Microneedle monitors drug levels without drawing blood

August 17, 2016

Expats, particularly those who are moving to developing countries, are advised to get the necessary vaccinations before relocating. For those with a needle phobia, the vaccination process can be stressful. Microneedles may offer a solution, and now researchers have developed the technology further to monitor drug levels.

Researchers at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Paul Scherrer Institut (PSI) in Switzerland have created a system which consists of a thin patch which is pressed against a patient's arm and measures drugs in their bloodstream.

The tiny needle-like projection is less than half a millimetre long and doesn't pierce the skin like a standard hypodermic needle, allowing drug levels to be monitored without drawing any blood.

Microneedles are designed to puncture the outer layer of skin, which acts as a protective shield, but not the next layers of epidermis and the dermis, which house nerves, blood vessels and active immune cells.

"Many groups are researching microneedle technology for painless vaccines and drug delivery," said researcher Sahan Ranamukhaarachchi, a PhD student in UBC's faculties of applied science and pharmaceutical sciences, "using them to painlessly monitor drugs is a newer idea."

The microneedle created by Ranamukhaarachchi and his colleagues was developed to monitor the antibiotic vancomycin. It's usually administered via an intravenous line, and is used to treat serious infections. In order to make sure that the antibiotic isn't causing dangerous toxic side effects, doctors currently have to draw blood from patients three or more times a day.

"This is probably one of the smallest probe volumes ever recorded for a medically relevant analysis," said Urs Hafeli, associate professor in UBC's faculty of pharmaceutical sciences.

So far, the researchers have successfully tested the system in the lab, and are currently working towards clinical trials.

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