Pain-free injections could be on the way, with new NUS patch

Dr Kang Lifeng, a researcher at NUS' Department of Pharmacy, holds an adhesive patch with microneedles in his laboratory on Sept 5, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Dr Kang Lifeng, a researcher at NUS' Department of Pharmacy, holds an adhesive patch with microneedles in his laboratory on Sept 5, 2014. -- ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Getting an injection often fills people with dread. But what if the procedure was completely pain-free?

Scientists from the National University of Singapore (NUS) have created a novel device that can quickly deliver painkillers, vaccinations, or even skin treatments like collagen painlessly.

Called a microneedle patch, it has dozens of tiny needles only 600 microns long (about six hair's breadth) and half as wide.

These "microneedles" can penetrate human skin deep enough to deliver treatments effectively, without causing pain, said Dr Kang Lifeng, a researcher at the university's Department of Pharmacy.

With the microneedles, drug treatments can be delivered within five minutes, compared with 45 minutes when a patch is used. Dosages can be altered by varying the size of the patch.

Tests on skin samples using collagen, used popularly as treatment against wrinkles and skin ageing, also found that it penetrated deeper and faster than conventional patches.

The biggest cheers, though, may come from children terrified of injections.

Dr Kang and his team want to test if their device is suitable for giving babies vaccinations. They are also exploring its usefulness in treating hair-loss.

He said: "For kids, when they go for injections, it can be a rather painful process. Sometimes it can traumatise them."

The next step for him is to conduct clinical trials and to commercialise the device, something Dr Kang hopes to do within the next three to five years.

His patch could be particularly useful for diabetics or cancer patients in home care, who may need to administer painkillers quickly yet non-invasively, he said.

davidee@sph.com.sg