The QUB boffins getting under your skin to tackle crisis in antibiotics resistance
A new skin patch could save many lives and tackle the antibiotic resistance crisis, researchers in Northern Ireland have said.
It administers drugs painlessly through thousands of individual microneedles.
Injection of antibiotics significantly reduces development of resistance among gut bacteria compared to using tablets.
Professor Ryan Donnelly of Queen's University Belfast said: "We hope to show that this unique antibiotic patch prevents resistance development.
"If we are successful, this approach will significantly extend the lifespan of existing antibiotics, allowing time for development of the next generation of antibiotics.
"In doing so, this work has the potential to save many lives."
Resistance to antibiotics is one of the major challenges to 21st century medicine.
Among the biggest problems is that the huge majority of the drugs are taken orally, the researcher said.
A small quantity of the compound often finds its way into the colon, creating the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria.
He added: "However, it is clearly impractical to expect patients to inject themselves at home, especially considering that 20% of people are needle-phobic.
"Admitting patients to hospital every time they need an antibiotic would quickly bankrupt healthcare providers."
The professor of pharmaceutical technology and his team hope to develop and evaluate the unique antibiotic patch, which he said can bypass the gut bacteria and extend the useful lifespan of currently-available antibiotics. On the surface will be tiny needles which painlessly pierce the skin, turning into a jelly-like material that keeps the holes open and allows the delivery of antibiotics into the skin for absorption into the bloodstream, thus bypassing the gut bacteria.
Placebo patches have already been successfully tested on 10 volunteers in a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.
The next step is to show that they can deliver the correct dose of antibiotics, before testing them against drugs in capsule form.
"For the first time, we're in control of the rate at which medicine goes into the skin," Professor Donnelly continued.
"I started thinking: what are the big health challenges we can use this to address?
"There probably isn't a bigger health challenge today than antibiotic resistance."
Scientists hope that the drug technology could be used to treat bacterial infections within five years following further tests.