Smartphone-controlled Skin Patch That Can Give You Different Drugs at Different Times


Nobody likes injections regularly, let alone having to take various drugs orally throughout the day. A novel wearable patch might assist by gently distributing several medications via the skin when activated by a smartphone.

The experimental gadget called the Spatiotemporal On-Demand Patch (SOP), was developed at the University of North Carolina by a team led by academics Wubin Bai and Juan Song. It’s a variant of an existing device known as a microneedle patch.

These patches often take the shape of thin polymer sheets with an array of tiny, sharp, medication-loaded studs (known as microneedles) on the underside. When the patch is pushed on the body, the needles penetrate the top layer of the skin without causing discomfort. They then disintegrate harmlessly, releasing their pharmacological payload into the body.

The SOC is unique in that it has an electrical circuit on its top surface, its needles may be individually loaded with various drugs, and all of the needles are coated in a thin layer of gold. When the patch is first put on the skin, its covering prevents the needles from disintegrating.

But when a nearby computer or smartphone sends a wireless signal to the SOC, it heats up one or more of the microneedles and breaks down the gold on them. The needle is then put right on the skin, where it dissolves and lets go of its contents over 30 seconds. The medicine first goes into the interstitial fluid between the skin cells, just like with other microneedle patches. It is then carried into the bloodstream.

So far, tests in the lab have shown that the SOP can be used to give mice repeated amounts of melatonin without any problems. It is thought that this technology could one day be used to treat long-term illnesses like Alzheimer’s by giving different drugs at set times throughout the day.

“The beauty of this device is that it can house dozens, if not hundreds, of concentrated drugs and can program their sequential release automatically,” noted Song.

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