Novel wearable patch allows for painless drug delivery through the skin

This ultrasound patch is made using a silicone-based polymer that automatically sticks to the skin. 
Mrigakshi Dixit
Wearable skin patch
Wearable skin patch


A team of MIT scientists has developed a novel wearable patch that could be used to deliver drugs painlessly. 

“Delivering drugs this way could offer less systemic toxicity and is more local, comfortable, and controllable,” said Canan Dagdeviren, an associate professor in MIT’s Media Lab and the senior author of the study, in a statement. 

The newly built patch

This ultrasound patch is made using a silicone-based polymer that automatically sticks to the skin. 

Several disc-shaped piezoelectric transducers are used in this skin patch prototype to convert electric currents into mechanical energy. Each of these discs consists of a cavity that stores the drug molecule in liquid form. 

“When an electric current is applied to the piezoelectric elements, they generate pressure waves in the fluid, creating bubbles that burst against the skin. These bursting bubbles produce microjets of fluid that can penetrate through the skin’s tough outer layer, the stratum corneum,” explained the statement.  

This device was tested on pig skin, and the team delivered niacinamide (a vitamin B found in sunscreens and moisturizers). The results demonstrated 26 times more drug delivery than the penetration achieved without ultrasonic technology. 

The current prototype can only deliver drugs a few millimeters into the skin, but the team is working to increase the depth of penetration. 

The delivery of drugs

Delivering drugs through the skin is easier said than done. This is primarily due to the protective outermost layer, which prevents tiny molecules from penetrating past the skin. This new device, however, addresses this issue. 

This new skin patch employs painless ultrasonic waves to create tiny channels that may allow small-molecule drugs to permeate deep within the skin.

They chose skin for this purpose specifically because it allows for direct drug delivery to the precise site where treatment is required. This application could be used for a variety of medical purposes, such as wound healing, pain relief, other skin conditions, and even cosmetic purposes. 

“The ease-of-use and high-repeatability offered by this system provides a game-changing alternative to patients and consumers suffering from skin conditions and premature skin aging,” said Dagdeviren. 

According to the official press release, medical professionals can also use this wearable patch to deliver hormones, muscle relaxants, and other drugs. 

This transdermal drug delivery method is said to be lightweight in comparison to the bulky equipment required for drug delivery through the skin.

The results have been published in the journal Advanced Materials

Study abstract:

Increased consumer interest in healthy-looking skin demands a safe and effective method to increase transdermal absorption of innovative therapeutic cosmeceuticals. However, permeation of small-molecule drugs is limited by the innate barrier function of the stratum corneum. Here, a conformable ultrasound patch (cUSP) that enhances transdermal transport of niacinamide by inducing intermediate-frequency sonophoresis in the fluid coupling medium between the patch and the skin is reported. The cUSP consists of piezoelectric transducers embedded in a soft elastomer to create localized cavitation pockets (0.8 cm2, 1 mm deep) over larger areas of conformal contact (20 cm2). Multiphysics simulation models, acoustic spectrum analysis, and high-speed videography are used to characterize transducer deflection, acoustic pressure fields, and resulting cavitation bubble dynamics in the coupling medium. The final system demonstrates a 26.2-fold enhancement in niacinamide transport in a porcine model in vitro with a 10 min ultrasound application, demonstrating the suitability of the device for short-exposure, large-area application of sonophoresis for patients and consumers suffering from skin conditions and premature skin aging

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