Researchers have developed a method of drug delivery that consists of an elastic patch that can be applied to the skin and release drugs when the patch is stretched.
The wearable, tensile strain-triggered drug delivery device has been developed by researchers at North Carolina State University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“This could be used to release painkillers whenever a patient with arthritic knees goes for a walk, or to release antibacterial drugs gradually as people move around over the course of a day,” said Zhen Gu, co-senior author of a paper describing the work and an assistant professor in the joint biomedical engineering program at NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill.
According to NC State, the technology consists of an elastic film that is studded with biocompatible microcapsules. These microcapsules, in turn, are packed with nanoparticles that can be filled with drugs.
The university said in a statement that the microcapsules stick halfway out of the film, on the side of the film that touches a patient’s skin. The drugs release slowly from the nanoparticles and are stored in the microcapsules. When the elastic film is stretched, it also stretches the microcapsules – enlarging the surface area of the microcapsule and effectively squeezing some of the stored drug out onto the patient’s skin, where it can be absorbed.
“When the microcapsule is stretched from left to right, it is also compressed from bottom to top,” said Yong Zhu, co-senior author of the paper and an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State. “That compression helps push the drug out of the microcapsule.”
After being stretched, the microcapsule is refilled by the drugs that continue to leak out of the nanoparticles.
“This can be used to apply drugs directly to sites on the skin, such as applying anti-cancer medications to melanomas or applying growth factors and antibiotics for wound healing,” said Jin Di, co-lead author and a Ph.D student in Gu’s lab.
The researchers are also said to have incorporated microneedles into the system, applying them on top of the microcapsules. In this configuration, the drugs can be squeezed through the microneedles. The microneedles are small enough to be painless, but large enough to allow drugs to diffuse into the bloodstream through tiny capillaries underneath the skin.
“This expands the range of drugs that can be applied using the technology,” said Shanshan Yao, co-lead author and a Ph.D student in Zhu’s lab.
“We’re now exploring how this tool can be used to apply drugs efficiently and effectively to burn patients, and we plan to look at how this could be used for pain relief as well,” Gu said.
“The materials are relatively inexpensive, and the manufacturing process is fairly straightforward, so we’re optimistic that this could be scaled up in a cost-effective way,” Zhu said.
The paper, “Stretch-Triggered Drug Delivery from Wearable Elastomers Containing Therapeutic Depots,” is published online in the journal ACS Nano. Co-authors include Yanqi Ye and Jicheng Yu of the joint biomedical engineering program, and Zheng Cui and Tushar Ghosh of NC State.