A startup under the umbrella of CU Innovation Hub in collaboration with the Chula Faculty of Science has developed an innovative ‘detachable and dissolvable microneedle’ that makes any injections easy and painless for everyone, while also significantly reducing medical wastes.
Those afraid of needles and injections have reason to be excited. In the near future, getting an injection is set to no longer be scary or painful, given the innovative microneedle patch can be implanted, fully detached, and dissolved under skin.
The product is being developed by Mineed Technology Co., Ltd., a startup under the umbrella of the Innovation Hub of Chulalongkorn University (CU Innovation Hub), headed by Professor Supason Wanichwecharraung, Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science.
“Injection is one form of a typical treatment and prophylaxis that everyone has to deal with, whether it’s vaccination, insulin for diabetics treatment, or even a typical injections to treat facial acnes,” Supason said.
“For people with trypanophobia, an injection can cause significant distress, in some cases, severe physical trauma, particularly for hyperhidrosis patients, for example, who require 30 injections under each armpit.”
Detachable and dissolvable microneedles development
Microneedles were invented and have been used globally for some time, but they have not been as popular as they perhaps should be.
Supason explained that in previous generations of microneedles, there had been some teething problems.
“The needles did not dissolve immediately so that patches have to be left on for 2-6 hours,” he said.
“In addition, the levels of moisture on each person’s skin are different, causing the active medication embedded in the needles to absorb at a different rate, not completely dissolve, or to not penetrate the skin of the users.”
“So, we developed this innovation that once the needle patch is in place, the implanted needle can be instantly detached itself into the skin, similar to implanting a splinter into human skin, but in this case, it doesn’t hurt, it’s 100 per cent safe, and a lot quicker than other typical dissolving microneedles.”
Small but full-performance Needles
The innovative microneedle contains active medication in a tiny needle of no more than one millimetre (1000 microns). It can quickly dissolve into the skin giving a different sensation than an injection with a typical syringe.
Chokchai Puangsiri, director of business development at Mineed Technology Co., Ltd., who has frequently sampled the microneedle, has a novel way of describing the experience of using the patches.
“Although it feels like something is touching the skin, it feels far less painful than a typical syringe injection, more like touching the prickly part of velcro tape.
“The microneedles can also be self-administered anytime, anywhere without the need for any medical expert.”
In addition to reducing the pain and fear of the syringe, another advantage of using microneedles is that the dosage of medication is much lower.
Supason used the COVID-19 vaccination, as an example.
“There are two types of COVID-19 vaccinations — intramuscular vaccinations, and subcutaneous vaccinations.
“Subcutaneous injections are better at stimulating the immune system, while using lower doses than intramuscular injections, but subcutaneous injections are more difficult to inject and, if done frequently, can cause scarring.”
The innovative soluble microneedles, therefore, make subcutaneous injections a simple matter and eliminate the likelihood of scarring, especially among patients who need regular subcutaneous injections, such as diabetics.
Also, dissolving microneedles help significantly in reducing the amount of hazardous medical waste like needles and syringes.
Easy to use, anyone can give themselves a microneedle injection
Microneedles cater to those who need to have frequent subcutaneous injections so that they do not have to waste their time and money traveling to receive services from healthcare professionals.
It is also a suitable for those who are afraid of needles or who struggle to give themselves injections.
“In the past, many diabetic patients died because they had a difficult time giving themselves insulin injections, and therefore, were not properly treated,” Chokchai said.
“Microneedles are the answer for this group of people, because patients can inject themselves easily.”
“Microneedles also help extend drugs’ shelf life, as liquid drugs are solidified to be used in the microneedles, thus their shelf life is extended for up to one to two more years.”
With various microneedle properties, Chokchai said the innovation will help healthcare professionals in providing telemedicine services without patients having to come to hospitals for injections in the future, which is extremely cost inefficient.
How to use detachable and dissolvable microneedles
The set consists of two components: a microneedle patch, and a moisture patch resembling a wet tissue.
The application starts with placing the microneedle patch on the skin where the injection is needed.
Use fingers to press all over the sheet so that the needle containing the drug is embedded under the skin.
Place the wet patch over the microneedle patch to dissolve it.
Leave it for at least two minutes for the needle to be detached and dissolved under the skin, then, peel off the wet and microneedle patches, and it’s done — conveniently and quickly.
For people who are worried about allergic reactions, Supason explained that this has been a key consideration in the development of the technology.
“The microneedle is made from hyaluronic acid, which is a polymer that already exists in any human body, so it doesn’t cause any allergic reaction.
“The needle can be used by anyone, but it also depends on the type of drug or vaccine that is injected.
“If the user is allergic to the drug or vaccine, it is inevitable that there is a chance for an allergic reaction.”
Medicines suitable for microneedles
Microneedles can be used with all types of drugs and vaccines injected subcutaneously, whether they are topical, such as anti-acne, anti-keloid scarring medicines, or drugs for bodily systems, such as diabetes, migraine, contraception, etc.
“In our detachable and dissolvable microneedles, we can succinctly control the dosage, the depth of the skin layer to be injected, and the time for dissolution rate appropriate to the drugs,” Chokchai said.
Unsuitable drug types for microneedles are those with high dosage, because of the limited size of patches and needles making them too small for high-dose drugs.
Markets targetted by microneedles
Chokchai explained that the current development of microneedles is for two markets: the cosmetics market and the pharmaceutical market.
In the cosmetics market, hospitals and cosmetology clinics, both local and overseas, already use microneedles, which are registered with the FDA in Thailand and Europe, with vitamins and skincare agents.
In the future, interested parties with drug formulas can commission the company to develop microneedles.
For the pharmaceutical market, the process is at the ‘Proof of Concept’ stage, and clinical trials are underway in collaboration with the company’s partners before the products are to be launched in general pharmacies.
“We tested a variety of medications, such as anti-inflammatories for the skin, acne medicines, and blood-glucose-lowering medicines for diabetics, and it worked well,” Chokchai said.
“But to sell them, we need to comply with the Food and Drug Administration’s regulations.”
Detachable and dissolvable microneedles can be developed for many types of medicines, such as herbal patches for mosquito bites.
The characteristics and components of the microneedles can also be adjusted to match the performance of any specific medicines, such as the size of the needle, or the duration of dissolution.
About Chulalongkorn University
Chulalongkorn University sets the standard as a university of innovations for society and is listed in the World’s Top 100 Universities for Academic Reputation, in the Quacquarelli Symonds (QS) World University Rankings 2021.