Needles thinner than the diameter of a human hair could form the basis for a new drug-delivery technique able to administer small quantities of high-potency medications through the skin--without causing pain. Arrays of the microneedles could improve administration of existing medications, allow development of new therapeutic compounds, and open the door for microprocessor-based systems for delivering drugs continuously or in response to body needs. In fact, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology believe their microneedles would be especially useful with large protein-based molecules, such as those produced through new biotechnology processes. Such drugs often cannot be taken orally, but must be administered frequently enough to make traditional needle injection impractical or unpleasant. Using reactive ion etching microfabrication techniques developed for integrated circuits, Mark G. Allen, associate professor at Georgia Tech's School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and two graduate students built solid silicon microneedle arrays 10-mm square. Existing needles are 150-mm long and leave holes about one micron in diameter when removed from the skin. Further development, the researchers say, should reduce the length and diameter of their microneedles, make them hollow to increase the rate of drug delivery, and permit mass fabrication of arrays at least a centimeter square. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
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