A New Pain-free Skin Patch Treatment Could Be Used to Fight Cancer

A team of researchers created a new skin patch that can deliver medication to fight cancer.
Chris Young
Skin tissue with cancerous cellsBenjamin Toth/iStock

According to the American Academy of Dermatology, nearly 100,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year, and 20 Americans die every day from it.

Now, a new fast-acting skin patch, tested in mice and human patients, has been designed by a group of MIT researchers in order to efficiently deliver medication that attacks melanoma cells.


Quick application skin patch

Topical ointments are a soothing form of treatment, but they can barely penetrate the skin. However, the solution to this - vaccines - is a painful one. Syringes are also inconvenient meaning patients sometimes fail to self-administer treatments.

A group of MIT scientists believe they have a solution - they created a skin patch that is fitted with microneedles and can administer medication in a very short time.

As per CNBC, the researchers, who made the patch through a process they call layer-by-layer coating, say it allows for a painless treatment that is easy to administer. What's more, it reduces the risk of infections.

"Our patch has a unique chemical coating and mode of action that allows it to be applied and removed from the skin in just a minute while still delivering a therapeutic dose of drugs," Yanpu He, a graduate student who helped develop the device, said in a press release. "Our patches elicit a robust antibody response in living mice and show promise in eliciting a strong immune response in human skin."

The researchers presented their findings at the American Chemical Society (ACS) Fall 2019 National Meeting and Exposition - as can be seen in the video below.

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Quick injection

Paula T. Hammond, Ph.D., along with her graduate students He, Celestine Hong and other colleagues at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), devised a way to quickly inject drugs using the patch. To do so, they designed a new pH-responsive polymer with two parts.

"The first part contains amine groups that are positively charged at the pH at which we make the microneedles, but that become neutral at the pH of skin," he said. 

A New Pain-free Skin Patch Treatment Could Be Used to Fight Cancer
The microneedle skin patch. Source: Celestine Hong and Yanpu He

"The second part contains carboxylic acid groups with no charge when the microneedles are made, but which become negatively charged when the patch is applied to the skin, so there is an overall change in charge from positive to negative." 

Ultimately, the team believes their patch can be used as an effective treatment for cancers. 

"Our patch technology could be used to deliver vaccines to combat different infectious diseases," Hammond said.

"But we are excited by the possibility that the patch is another tool in the oncologists' arsenal against cancer, specifically melanoma."

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