What are microneedles?

Microneedles are extremely small needles used to draw blood or administer medication without penetrating the skin and underlying tissues as deeply as traditional hypodermic needles or syringes. When used for medical purposes, rows of several hundred microneedles are placed in tiny patches that are applied to the skin. Microneedles make microscopic holes in the outermost layer of the skin and draw small amounts of blood or deliver a drug, a process sometimes called transdermal drug delivery. They cause minimal pain and trauma compared to traditional needles and are used for a variety of medical purposes including vaccines, pain management and blood glucose monitoring. Microneedling is a relatively new medical technology and is the subject of extensive research and study.

The size of a microneedle is measured in microns. A micron is one thousandth of a millimeter, and a microneedle is typically no more than 1 micron in diameter and 1-100 microns in length. Microneedle coated adhesives are described as having a sandpaper-like feel when touched. These needles are so small that they were used to deliver drugs to individual cells. Needles can be made from a variety of materials, including metals, silicone, polymers, ceramics and glass, and are manufactured using microfabrication techniques similar to processes used in nanotechnology and microchip production.

Microneedles have several advantages over hypodermic syringes and needles. They are virtually painless because they are not deep enough to touch the nerves and penetrate only the outermost layer of the skin. Shallow penetration also means there is less chance of infection and injury. In addition, this technology facilitates the administration of the exact amount of a drug, allowing for the use of lower doses, and the development of soluble microneedles can help reduce the problem of discarded needles.

Microneedle patches are also inexpensive to manufacture and do not need to be administered by medical professionals, making them ideal for large-scale vaccination programs in developing countries. The development of an immunization patch would also facilitate the administration of childhood vaccines and seasonal flu vaccines in developed countries. Microneedles are being used for some types of blood tests, for example blood glucose monitoring for diabetics.

The use of microneedle patches has already been studied with positive results in areas such as pain management, hormone replacement therapy and as a form of drug administration for the treatment of congestive heart failure. Potential future uses include delivering nanoparticles into the body for various treatments, targeted gene therapy, and skin rejuvenation.

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