Although originally intended for use in transdermal drug and vaccine delivery, microneedle technologies also have significant potential in diagnostic applications. Interstitial fluid (ISF) - the intracellular fluid present in the outermost skin layers - is rich in biomarkers such as glucose, lactate and cortisol, and ISF sampling could be used to monitor the physiological status of the body without resorting to painful blood extraction procedures.
This has enormous potential in minimally invasive diagnostics, particularly with regard to improvements in patient compliance and the ultimate development of sophisticated closed-loop, theranostic platforms such as MicroTIPs. Potential ‘mhealth’ (i.e. the delivery of healthcare services using wearable technologies and communication devices) markets are large - the International Diabetes Federation (IDF) expects the number of people suffering globally from diabetes to rise to 592 million by 2035, for example.
Tyndall researchers are pioneering new concepts in microneedle diagnostics. Among these are low-cost glucose sensors based around electrochemical sensors placed at the ultrasharp tips of micromoulded polymeric needle arrays, and our initial in-vitro tests show that these arrays are capable of detecting glucose in physiologically relevant concentrations.
The team has also developed a sensor based on an array of hollow silicon microneedles filled with an organogel able to sense ionic species in a physiological fluid. Electrochemical sensing takes place at the micro-interface formed between these two immiscible electrolyte solutions (μITIES), and work to date has demonstrated the feasibility of drug monitoring using propranolol as a model analyte.
Numerous human trials have already shown that Tyndall microneedles can be inserted and discreetly worn without pain, discomfort or lasting skin damage. Multiple sensor modules will provide a degree of redundancy not available with other in vivo biosensors, leading to enhanced robustness of the platform. In addition, we are investigating the use of embedded microsensors (pressure, temperature, impedance, ECG) to monitor correct application and wear of the patch, and ensure that high-quality data is returned to the end-user at all times.
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