If you flinch at the sight of a needle or face difficulty in swallowing pills, here’s an alternative method to alleviate your pain. The Centre for Biomedical Engineerin at IIT Delhi has created a device, which can be worn like a watch, to administer medicines using electric current. Agonizing as it may sound, the process is pain-free, claim researchers.
Based on a concept called Iontophoresis, the process includes application of low intensity current to the skin which causes a drug to permeate inside without any needle pricks.
Researchers at IITD say this method spares the patient the pain of injection and is more effective and healthier than consuming tablets. And the intensity of the current is lesser than 0.5 milliampere per centimetre square – low enough to possibly go unnoticed by the user.
“Transdermal delivery of drugs using electric current is beneficial for patients who have to take injections or painkillers regularly. It’s a better option since the drug goes directly into the bloodstream and works faster,” said professor Sneh Anand, who has been working on the project with Dr Veena Koul and other PhD scholars at IITD since 2000.
Anand explained, “When consumed orally, a medicine goes to the stomach, is broken down in the liver and then reaches the bloodstream. This affects the liver in the long run. We may call the new process a liver bypass.”
Anand says she started with a device that was in the form of a computer. After much advancement, the team developed a handheld device which was further turned into a miniature gadget – with electrodes – that can be worn around the arm. The electrode acts as a conductorthrough which the current passes.
The drug can be administered in the form of a cream. Here’s how you can make the device function. Wear the strap on the arm. Lift the electrode to apply the drug on the skin under it.
Put the electrode back and place the battery-operated electronic component of the device on the strap. Push the button on it to start the flow of current which drives the ionic molecules into the skin. Another electrode completes the circuit.
The duration of current will depend on the kind of drug being administered. In case of a liquid or powdered drug, it is turned into a patch of hydro gel which is a crosslinked polymer like contact lenses.
Researchers say the device is virtually fail-safe and they have already tested it with diclofenac diethylamine for pain relief and with insulin for diabetes. They plan to carry out similar tests with drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have tied up with a private company in Ahmedabad to start a human trial. All formalities for the trial have been completed and the company will market it soon,” said Anand.
The device is re-usable and its cost of development is nearly Rs 1,000. “The drug patches can be manufactured for anything between Rs 10 and Rs 12.
“I can’t say what the commercial cost of this product would be but it definitely won’t be expensive,” Anand said.
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