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Ultrasound Helps Drugs Get Under The Skin

September 17, 2012
Written by: , Filed in: Interventional Radiology
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Ultrasound can increase the skin’s permeability to drugs, perhaps enabling noninvasive drug delivery or needle-free vaccinations, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology engineers.

It works by creating tiny bubbles in a fluid—which could be a solution containing medicine or a vaccine. The bubbles pop, creating microjets of fluid that gouge out microscopic skin abrasions. The fluid enters the body through those tiny breaches in the skin surface.

It doesn’t sound like much fun for the patient. But the engineers assure us that the process removes only a bit of the top layer of skin, and that the damage is both transient and pain-free. They’re from MIT, so they must know what they’re talking about, right?

For some time, researchers have been experimenting with low-frequency ultrasound for this purpose. The MIT engineers combined low- and high-frequency ultrasound for better results. High-frequency ultrasound doesn’t have enough energy to pop the bubbles, but it does create extra bubbles. The low-frequency waves take care of the popping while the high-frequency waves limit the lateral movement of the bubbles, making for more uniform results.

Carl Schoellhammer, an MIT doctoral candidate in chemical engineering, said:

This could be used for topical drugs such as steroids—cortisol, for example—systemic drugs and proteins such as insulin, as well as antigens for vaccination, among many other things.

Schoellhammer is lead author of a paper about the new process that was published online last month in the Journal of Controlled Release. (There really is a journal for everything, isn’t there?) He was quoted in an MIT news release.

Experimenting with pig skin, the researchers discovered that the double-frequency system significantly increased permeability compared to a purely low-frequency system. Glucose was absorbed 10 times better and inulin, a vaccine adjuvant, 4 times better with two frequencies compared to one.

More animal tests are needed before human tests can even begin. Still, the technology promises to make drug and vaccine delivery significantly more patient-friendly.

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Related seminar: UCSF Radiology Review: COMPREHENSIVE IMAGING (all-new release)

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