Scientists in Cardiff are developing potentially pain-free needles which could take the fear out of trips to the doctor or dentist for millions of people who dread the jab.
The British Skin Foundation, the charity for skin disease research, today announced that they will be funding a study to assess pain and perception after treatment with an alternative to conventional needles, called 'microneedles'.
The study will also determine damage to the skin's barrier function and compare the wound healing process in the skin after use of the novel treatment.
The microneedles are 0.15 to 0.3 mm long, the smallest of which are barely visible to the naked eye. A tiny plate containing up to 400 needles is used and can be applied in a similar way to nicotine patches.
In theory, they can be self-administered by the patient without the need for a doctor or nurse being present – which could potentially be an advantage in the event of a major disease outbreak.
"Research into microneedles has proved that patients, especially children and older people, may no longer need to fear a visit to their doctor or dentist", explained Dr James Birchall, Researcher at the Welsh School of Pharmacy in Cardiff and one of the scientists leading the study.
"Our plans are now to carry out some rigorous testing of the devices and fully determine their potential in delivering medicines and vaccines to human skin."
Dr Alex Anstey, Consultant Dermatologist at Royal Gwent Hospital, will also be leading the project alongside Dr Birchall. He said: "We are delighted to have been awarded this grant by the British Skin Foundation, as it allows us to continue developing this novel way of administering drugs.
"The skin represents an appropriate and convenient target organ for the localised treatment of skin disease, and the delivery of certain drugs and vaccines into the body.
"However the skin also contains a protective barrier layer and therefore most drugs and larger molecules cannot permeate through the skin in the form of a cream or other topical medication.
"These microneedles are plates of tiny needles which can pierce the skin barrier layer, the stratum corneum, in a way that is minimally invasive.
"The needles are long enough to pierce the outermost barrier layer but not long enough to reach the underlying pain receptors or blood vessels.
"This makes microneedles potentially pain free, and far less likely to cause bleeding than conventional injections.
"However, these needles may still produce sensations in the skin and cause some damage to the outer layers, and this study aims to determine whether this is the case."
It is hoped that once developed, microneedles could be of particular benefit to all patients, including needlephobes and people who require vaccines, for example the elderly and children.
Nina Goad of the British Skin Foundation, the charity funding this latest study, said: "The hope is that this new system could be used to deliver a wide range of drugs, including analgesics, insulin and vaccines.
"If this were to be the case, this could be a revolutionary treatment for a vast number of patients with a large range of medical needs. We are very excited to be able to fund this type of work."
The researchers hope that their new design will be in use in five to ten years time, but cannot provide an exact timescale while research is ongoing.
note to editors:
Please refer to the British Skin Foundation charity in any coverage.
For further information please contact Nina Goad, Communications Officer for the British Skin Foundation on 0207 391 6355, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Note to picture desk:
Images are available on request from Nina Goad (see above).