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Date [ 2014-06-02, 05:01 ]

Soon going to the doctors for shots should not be fearful. 

Dr Boris Stoeber

(Kuala Lumpur=Koreanpress)  Nancy Joseph = Soon those taking vaccine shots or suffering from diabetes may suffer less pain. It is all due to University of British Columbia researchers. They have developed new 'microneedle arrays' that could reduce the discomfort of injections with the elimination of injecting deep into the skin.

Annually, close to 12 billion injections and 100 million childhood vaccinations are given worldwide.  Many of these are taken in varying degrees of fear. The most extreme being Trypanophobia. This fear of needles, is a formal medical condition that affects approximately 10% of the world.

Now there is hope for trypanophobics. It is all due to scientists such as Dr Boris Stoeber, the Canada Research Chair in Microfluidics and Sensing Technology at the University of British Columbia, who are all working on pain-free administration of injections.

Stoeber's idea rose from a suggestion made by his professor, Dr Dorian Liepmann, at the University of California. They first envisioned small prefilled syringes with vaccines for use in remote places. Another consideration was  the self-administration of drugs through syringes with the drugs to be pressed onto the skin. This would result  in easier use of the syringes and remove the need for trained healthcare personnel.

It is medically accepted that injections and needles are here to stay. Thus.
over time, Stoeber modified his device and began using an array of microneedles that held am array of  medication inside them. This meant pain-free injections that could be self-administered. Stoeber was quick to add, “These will not  replace hypodermic needles, but microneedles have the potential to introduce new types of medical treatment."

Microneedles can be fabricated to a length of 400 micrometers; and an eight-millimetre-squared patch can hold about 100 microneedles. However, these specifications can be custom-altered for various clinical applications.

Initially made from silicon, Iman Mansoor, one of Stoeber's students, has suggested replacing the silicon with an electroplated metal coating. The main benefit  would be bringing down the cost to ten cents for each patch.

Our fine nerve endings and capillaries are located deeper under our skin.But as  microneedle patches puncture only the stratum corneum, the outermost layer of the skin, there is less or almost no pain or infection. Pressure is simply felt on the skin due to the extremely small size of the needles and not , to pun it, needle sharp pricks as withhypodermic needles.

Another beneficiarywould be a diabetic. As they frequentlycheck their blood glucose levels by using painful finger-pricking devices, microneedles would be a great boon for them.  ArKal is one company who is already using microneedles in part of its continuous glucose monitor system and says the needles  compares favourably to other currently available apparatuses.

Stoeber also adds, ”Microneedles are a good application for vaccines," This would actually prove lifesaving in remote areas with fewer trained healthcare personnel. As the arrays can be prefilled with the appropriate drug dosages, overdoses should not be able to arise. One discovery made is that some drugs are more effective when they are injected directly into the skin rather than into the bloodstream.

The microneedle patches, however, are limited by the amount of drugs they can administer. They may not be effectively used in situations of natural disasters or emergencies. Moreover, as the patches cannot deliver the drug directly into the bloodstream, it would then have to be used with drugs that can be absorbed through the skin.

Though this can be looked upon as  a disadvantage, some successful follow-ups have been achieved. Yeu-Chun Kim, assistant professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in the US, and his colleagues, optimised microneedle patches coated with influenza vaccine to attain better vaccine efficacy by retaining the antigen activity. In Japan, a team headed by Zhihua Yang of the National Institute of Advanced Industrial Science and Technology (AIST), directly fabricated electrodes over a microneedle that was able to detect glucose. With each needle in the array equipped with the ability to detect glucose, it makes the array an efficient sensor.
Rather than rest on their laurels, Dr.Stoeber and his team have begun work to demonstrate the usefulness of microneedles in several applications. One of which has been the use of microneedle arrays to administer doses of vasodilators. This effectively increased blood flow in the patients, indicating that the method of delivery was successful.

Next, Stoeber and his team have also managed to stem the prospect of  having high production costs. Microneedle arrays are now expected to beaffordable and available commercially by 2018.


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