Wearable Patch Can Painlessly Deliver Drugs Through the Skin

In hopes of making it easier to deliver drugs through the skin, MIT researchers have developed a wearable patch that applies painless ultrasonic waves to the skin, creating tiny channels that drugs can pass through.

“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,” says Canan Dagdeviren, senior author of the study. “Delivering drugs this way could offer less systemic toxicity and is more local, comfortable, and controllable.”

The researchers began this project as an exploration of alternative ways to deliver drugs.

“The main benefit with skin is that you bypass the whole gastrointestinal tract. With oral delivery, you have to deliver a much larger dose in order to account for the loss that you would have in the gastric system,” Shah says. “This is a much more targeted, focused modality of drug delivery.”

Ultrasound exposure has been shown to enhance the skin’s permeability to small-molecule drugs, but most of the existing techniques for performing this kind of drug delivery require bulky equipment.

The device that they designed consists of a patch embedded with several disc-shaped piezoelectric transducers, which can convert electric currents into mechanical energy. Each disc is embedded in a polymeric cavity that contains the drug molecules dissolved in a liquid solution.

“This works open the door to using vibrations to enhance drug delivery. There are several parameters that result in generation of different kinds of waveform patterns. Both mechanical and biological aspects of drug delivery can be improved by this new toolset,” Karami says.

The patch is made of PDMS, a silicone-based polymer that can adhere to the skin without tape.In this study, the researchers tested the device by delivering niacinamide. 

In tests using pig skin, the researchers showed that when they delivered niacinamide using the ultrasound patch, the amount of drug that penetrated the skin was 26 times greater than the amount that could pass through the skin without ultrasonic assistance.

“After we characterize the drug penetration profiles for much larger drugs, we would then see which candidates, like hormones or insulin, can be delivered using this technology, to provide a painless alternative for those who are currently bound to self-administer injections on a daily basis,” Shah says.


Chia‐Chen Yu, Aastha Shah, Nikta Amiri, Colin Marcus, Md Osman Goni Nayeem, Amit Kumar Bhayadia, Amin Karami, Canan Dagdeviren. A Conformable Ultrasound Patch for Cavitation‐Enhanced Transdermal Cosmeceutical Delivery. Advanced Materials, 2023; DOI: 10.1002/adma.202300066

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. “Wearable patch can painlessly deliver drugs through the skin: Using ultrasonic waves that propel drug molecules into the skin, the patch could be used to treat a variety of skin conditions.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 20 April 2023. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2023/04/230420135336.htm >.

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