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Patches to the rescue

New techniques for delivering drugs and vaccines through the skin.

June 27, 2023
hand with an ultrasound gel patch
This wearable patch applies ultrasonic waves to the skin to enable drug delivery.Courtesy of the Researchers

Patches stuck to the skin can be an appealing alternative to injections, pills, and other ways of getting medicines into the body. Two MIT groups have found ways to advance this technology. 

Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in the Media Lab, and colleagues developed a patch that applies painless ultrasonic waves, creating tiny channels that help drugs pass through. This approach could deliver treatments for skin conditions and could also be adapted for hormones, muscle relaxants, and other drugs, the researchers say.

In tests, 26 times more of a drug passed through pig skin than was possible without ultrasonic assistance.

Meanwhile, researchers led by Ana Jaklenec and Institute Professor Robert Langer, ScD ’74, of the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research have developed a small mobile printer that produces patches with hundreds of nearly painless micro­needles, whose tips dissolve under the skin to release a vaccine; a study shows they can effectively vaccinate mice against covid-19. 

Once printed, the vaccine patches can be stored for months at room temperature. A prototype can produce 100 in 48 hours, but the researchers expect that could be improved.

“We could someday have on-demand vaccine production,” says Jaklenec. “If, for example, there was an Ebola outbreak in a particular region, one could ship a few of these printers there.”

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