It’s only a matter of time before drugs are administered via patches with painless microneedles instead of unpleasant injections. But designers need to balance the need for flexible, comfortable-to-wear material with effective microneedle penetration of the skin. Swedish researchers say they may have cracked the problem.
In a recent study published in PLOS ONE, a research team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm reports a successful test of its microneedle patch, which combines stainless steel needles embedded in a soft polymer base – the first such combination believed to be scientifically studied. The soft material makes it comfortable to wear, while the stiff needles ensure reliable skin penetration.
Unlike epidermal patches, microneedles penetrate the upper layer of the skin, just enough to avoid touching the nerves. This enables delivery of drugs, extraction of physiological signals for fitness monitoring devices, extracting body fluids for real-time monitoring of glucose, pH level and other diagnostic markers, as well as skin treatments in cosmetics and bioelectric treatments.
Frank Niklaus, professor of micro and nanofabrication at KTH, says that practically all microneedle arrays being tested today are “monoliths”, that is, the needles and their supporting base are made of the same – often hard and stiff – material. While that allows the microneedles to penetrate the skin, they are uncomfortable to wear. On the other hand, if the whole array is made from softer materials, they may fit more comfortably, but soft needles are less reliable for penetrating the skin.
“To the best of our knowledge, flexible and stretchable patches with arrays of sharp and stiff microneedles have not been demonstrated to date,” he says.
They actually tested two variations of their concept, one which was stretchable and slightly more flexible than the other. The more flexible patch, which has a base of molded thiol-ene-epoxy-based thermoset film, conformed well to deformations of the skin surface and each of the 50 needles penetrated the skin during a 30 minute test.
A successful microneedle product could have major implications for health care delivery. “The chronically ill would not have to take daily injections,” says co-author Niclas Roxhed, who is research leader at the Department of Micro and Nanotechnology at KTH.
In addition to addressing people’s reluctance to take painful shots, microneedles also offer a hygiene benefit. The World Health Organization estimates that about 1.3 million people die worldwide each year due to improper handling of needles.
“Since the patch does not enter the bloodstream, there is less risk of spreading infections,” Roxhed says.
Learn more: Painless microneedle patch could replace needles
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KTH was founded in 1827 as Sweden’s first polytechnic and is one of Scandinavia’s largest (the largest by certain definitions) institutions of higher education in technology. KTH accounts for one-third of Sweden’s technical research and engineering education capacity at university level. KTH offers programmes leading to a Master of Architecture, Master of Science in Engineering, Bachelor of Science in Engineering, Bachelor of Science, Master of Science, licentiate or doctoral degree. The university also offers a technical preparatory programme for non-scientists and further education.
There are a total of just over 14 000 full-year equivalent undergraduate students, more than 1700 active postgraduate students and 4600 full-time-equivalent employees. KTH is one of the leading technical universities in Europe and highly respected worldwide, especially in the domains of technology and natural sciences.
A 195-year-old discovery is behind a new system that will save vehicles hundreds of litres of fuel and reduce their carbon emissions by as much as 1,000 tonnes per year.
Working with automotive manufacturer Scania, researchers from KTH Royal Institute of Technology have been testing semi trucks equipped with a system that converts exhaust heat into power — through a process called thermoelectric generation (TEG). The voltage produced by the system can power the truck and reduce the strain on the engine, explains researcher Arash Risseh.
The TEG system operates on the principle of the thermoelectric effect, by which differences in temperature are converted into voltage — a phenomenon discovered in 1821 by German physicist Thomas Johann Seebeck, and often referred to as the “Seebeck effect”.
“Most fuel energy is not used to drive a truck forward,” Risseh says. “Some 30 percent of this unused energy is lost as heat from the exhaust pipes.”
When it comes to indoor lighting, nothing beats the sun’s rays streaming in through windows. Soon, that natural light could be shining through walls, too.
Scientists have developed transparent wood that could be used in building materials and could help home and building owners save money on their artificial lighting costs.
Scientists have developed transparent wood that could be used in building materials and could help home and building owners save money on their artificial lighting costs. Their material, reported in ACS’ journal Biomacromolecules, also could find application in solar cell windows. Recent work on making transparent paper from wood has led to the potential for making similar but stronger materials.
Maybe soon we can say goodbye to polystyrene, the petroleum-based material that is used to make Styrofoam. In what looks like an ordinary bicycle helmet, Swedish designers have replaced Styrofoam with a new shock-absorbing material made with renewable and biodegradable wood-based material.
Researcher Lars Wågberg, a professor in Fibre Technology at KTH Royal Institute of Technology, says the wood-based foam material offers comparable properties to Styrofoam.
“But even better, it is from a totally renewable resource — something that we can produce from the forest,” Wågberg says.
Sweden is on its way to becoming the world’s first cashless society, thanks to the country’s embrace of IT, as well as a crackdown on organized crime and terror, according to a study from Stockholm’s KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
Niklas Arvidsson, an industrial technology and management researcher at KTH, says that the widespread and growing embrace of the mobile payment system, Swish, is helping hasten the day when Sweden replaces cash altogether.
“Cash is still an important means of payment in many countries’ markets, but that no longer applies here in Sweden,” Arvidsson says. “Our use of cash is small, and it’s decreasing rapidly.”
A step forward for the future of data storage
A KTH researcher is part of an international team that has unlocked the secret to creating stable dynamic skyrmions – the nanoscale magnetic whirls that promise to meet our insatiable appetite for data storage.
A method for making elastic high-capacity batteries from wood pulp was unveiled by researchers in Sweden and the US. Using nanocellulose broken down from tree fibres, a team from KTH Royal Institute of Technology and Stanford University produced an elastic, foam-like battery material that can withstand shock and stress.
“It is possible to make incredible materials from trees and cellulose,” says Max Hamedi, who is a researcher at KTH and Harvard University. One benefit of the new wood-based aerogel material is that it can be used for three-dimensional structures.
“There are limits to how thin a battery can be, but that becomes less relevant in 3D, ” Hamedi says. “We are no longer restricted to two dimensions. We can build in three dimensions, enabling us to fit more electronics in a smaller space.”
With the growing popularity of care share programs, self-driving technology could be a game changer for urban traffic systems
A new study looks at how the Swedish capital’s transport grid could be transformed.
A fleet of shared self-driving cars in Stockholm could reduce rush hour traffic volumes by 14 cars for every shared vehicle
A Swedish company has cracked the challenge of scaling up wave energy, with the help of technology from researchers at KTH Royal Institute of Technology.
CorPower Ocean’s new wave energy system, which uses a gearbox design that KTH researchers helped develop, generates five times more energy per ton of device, at one third of the cost when compared to competing state-of-the art technologies. Energy output is three to four times higher than traditional wave power systems.