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The high-tech skin patch that uses sound to deliver drugs – and could replace tablets entirely

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A hi-tech stick-on patch could be an easier, faster way to deliver medication to the body.

The patch emits painless sound waves that prise open tiny channels in the skin, allowing painkillers and other drugs stored inside the patch to rapidly pass through into the body.

This could help deliver treatments for skin conditions, researchers say, as well as getting painkillers, hormones and muscle relaxants into the body faster — rather than wait for them to be absorbed through the stomach as a tablet, or slowly absorbed over several hours as with existing patches.

A trial revealed the new patch led to 26 times more of a drug being absorbed by the skin than with other types of patches.

The skin has long been an appealing route for delivering drugs because it means they can go more directly to where needed, and bypass the stomach, where a significant proportion of the dose is broken down.

The patch emits painless sound waves that prise open tiny channels in the skin, allowing painkillers and other drugs to pass through into the body (file image)

The patch emits painless sound waves that prise open tiny channels in the skin, allowing painkillers and other drugs to pass through into the body (file image) 

However, the outer layer of the skin is tough, as it’s evolved as a barrier to protect against harmful organisms.

So while some skin patches are already used to deliver medicines into the bloodstream such as hormone replacement therapy, most drugs are excluded because they are made up of molecules that are too big. Skin patches containing micro-needles can help deliver certain medication, but they can be uncomfortable.

Meanwhile, blasting the skin with sound waves is known to open tiny channels in the skin — just enough to let liquid medicines through. But until recently this has relied on bulky, immobile hospital equipment.

Now researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the U.S. have distilled the ultrasound technology into a skin patch.

The 50p-sized patch contains tiny disc-shaped ‘piezoelectric transducers’, converting electric current into sound waves. 

Each disc has a cavity that contains the drug dissolved in liquid. Piezoelectric transducers produce an electric current from the body’s own movement and convert the current into sound waves — these flow through the liquid drug, creating millions of tiny bubbles. These bubbles force open tiny channels in the skin.

For the recent study, the patch was filled with niacinamide (a type of B vitamin used in sunscreen and moisturisers) diluted in liquid.

Using pig skin, it was able to deliver in just 30 minutes the same amount that took six hours with a microneedle patch, reported the journal Advanced Materials in March.

Researchers are refining the patch so that it can deliver more drugs, including the strong painkiller fentanyl. Similar devices could also deliver hormone drugs or those to treat cancer, they said. Tests on human volunteers are planned.

Dr Marcel de Matas, a pharmaceutical scientist and honorary research fellow at Manchester University — who set up its North West Centre for Advanced Drug Delivery to turn scientific research into practice — said: ‘Delivery of drugs via the skin has long been an attractive and advantageous route of administration.

‘The use of ultrasound waves as a means to promote the passage of drugs across the skin clearly provides stern competition for more recent developments, such as microneedles.’

Could statins help treat itchy, dry skin? 

Statins can help treat the skin condition psoriasis, according to research.

The cholesterol-lowering drugs reduced the number of flaky patches and are also thought to have anti-inflammatory benefits, a study from China has found.

Psoriasis affects one in 50 people in the UK, and is the result of overproduction of skin cells: this leads to dry, scaly patches that can bleed, and may also be sore and itchy.

Reviewing existing evidence, researchers from Shanghai Skin Disease Hospital concluded that statins significantly improve the lesions by stopping the over-production of keratinocytes, cells in the outermost skin layer.

Asthma sufferers may be 40 per cent more likely to develop osteoarthritis, reports Stanford University in the U.S. 

Tracking 117,000 adults with asthma over 16 years, it found these patients had a much higher risk of joint wear and tear, according to the journal Annals of the Rheumatic Diseases.

It’s thought allergy-related conditions activate immune cells in the joints, triggering pain and inflammation.

Red light therapy slows short-sightedness in kids

Six minutes of red light a day slows the development of short-sightedness in children.

Eight to 13-year-olds who wore glasses for short-sightedness were exposed to a few minutes of red light from a desk lamp twice a day for a year, with a control group. Short-sightedness progressed at a third of the speed in the red light group, the journal Ophthalmology reports.

In myopia, or short-sightedness, the eyeball grows too long, making distant objects blurry.

One theory is red light increases blood flow to the eye which influences its growth in some way.

A skin patch that exposes the body to tiny amounts of peanut protein may resolve severe allergies.

It’s been shown that gradually increasing the exposure to these proteins can help patients’ immune systems become tolerant to them.

In a new trial, two-thirds of toddlers who wore the peanut patch, called Viaskin, every day for a year, showed a significant reduction in their sensitivity to peanuts, reports the New England Journal of Medicine.

Shingles nerve pain to be treated with patient’s own blood 

Can a jab of blood in the back make shingles less painful?

Researchers at the University of Hong Kong are testing whether injections of platelet-rich plasma can ease post-herpetic neuralgia, nerve pain that is a common complication of shingles.

Around one in five people who have shingles will go on to develop the condition, where inflammation of the nerves under the skin causes burning, stabbing or shooting pain — this can last for months or even years.

Thirty patients will be given injections of their own blood, processed to be rich in tiny cells called platelets which can calm inflammation. It is hoped that a single injection will ease both the pain of shingles and post-herpetic neuralgia.

Wound gel may ease symptoms of menopause 

A silicone gel used to treat wounds may ease some common symptoms of the menopause.

More than half of women develop genito-urinary problems, including vaginal dryness and frequent urination, during and after the menopause, when a drop in oestrogen thins and reduces the elasticity of the vagina, bladder and urethra (which carries urine out of the body). 

Treatments range from moisturisers to vaginal oestrogen creams but do not work for all.

In a trial at the Orange Coast Women’s Medical Center in the U.S., 100 women will apply a silicone gel or oestrogen cream with the effect on their symptoms compared after three months.

The gel, which is normally used to create a flexible covering for wounds, is thought to form a protective layer over the affected tissue and hydrate it.

Under the microscope 

Champion jockey Frankie Dettori, 52, takes our health quiz: 

Frankie Dettori takes the Daily Mail’s Health quiz and confesses to liking a piece of chocolate with his morning coffee

Can you run up the stairs?

Yes. I like my food and wine, so for weight reasons I have to burn the calories off. I have a treadmill in a room where I put the heating on to work up a good sweat, and I’ll alternate between four minutes’ walking and one minute running, for about an hour. It works out to about five miles — if I do that every day I can eat and drink what I want. I also ride in the mornings twice a week and race three times a week.

Get your five a day?

Yes and no. I eat a salad (lettuce, tomatoes, beetroot) as standard with my meals. I’ve trained myself to eat salad — when I first started racing, I lived on a Diet Coke and a Twix.

Ever dieted?

I started at 16, when I started riding. I have to make a certain weight every day. I let myself get to 9st 7lb in the off-season, but during the racing season if I get near 9st (I’m 5ft 4in) I’ll start panicking, because I have to be about 8st 9lb. When I travel I’ll have a hot bath to lose an extra couple of pounds for a race.

Any vices?

Wine. I also don’t mind a piece of chocolate with my morning coffee.

Any family ailments?

No. Dad’s just turned 82, Mum is 76. Mum used to work in the circus, and my dad was a jockey — they divorced years ago.

Worst injury?

During my career I have broken my collarbone, both my elbows, my ankle, shoulder, countless ribs and fingers.

Pop any pills?

Electrolytes [salts], because I sweat a lot and vitamin C for immunity because I’m always on a plane or in a busy place.

Cope well with pain?

In my job, you’re going to fall, and it is painful but you have to get on with it. If I break something I know I’ve got to try to get back racing in four weeks: if you don’t play, you don’t earn. 

I fall the same amount as I did 30 years ago, but now that I’m over 50, my bones break like glass. This October at Ascot will be the last time I’m riding in the UK.

Ever been depressed?

Not depressed but I’ve had my highs and lows, and after I had my plane crash [in June 2000; the pilot died], I was depressed. I probably should have seen a therapist but I had family around me [his wife Catherine, and their five children] and they helped me through.

Hangover cure?

I try not to get hangovers. If I do, a plate of pasta always works.

What keeps you awake?

Not much.

Any phobias?

I’m a bit claustrophobic since my plane crash. When you get in a ski lift with lots of people, I feel a bit trapped.

Like to live for ever?

No.

Interview by Louise Flind 



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