Podcast: Pills No More: Patches As The Future of Drug Delivery

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Podcast: Pills No More: Patches As The Future of Drug Delivery

In this episode, we discuss the breakthrough research by MIT engineers to effectively deliver drugs through the skin allowing for a lower dosage of active ingredients needed per use and a potentially pill-free implementation of commonly used drugs!

In this episode, we discuss the breakthrough research by MIT engineers to effectively deliver drugs through the skin allowing for a lower dosage of active ingredients needed per use and a potentially pill-free implementation of commonly used drugs!  

This podcast is sponsored by Mouser Electronics.    

(4:00) - Wearable patch can painlessly deliver drugs through the skin

This episode was brought to you by Mouser, our favorite place to get electronics parts for any project, whether it be a hobby at home or a prototype for work. Click HERE to learn about how wearable technology has been making its way into the medical industry.


What's going on people welcome back to the NextByte Podcast. In this episode, we're going to dive deep into how you can administer drugs through your skin very effectively, to the point that you might never have to take another pill in your life. So, if that's got you excited, like it's got me excited, because I hate pills, then buckle up. Let's jump right into it.

I'm Daniel, and I'm Farbod. And this is the NextByte Podcast. Every week, we explore interesting and impactful tech and engineering content from Wevolver.com and deliver it to you in bite sized episodes that are easy to understand, regardless of your background. 

Farbod: Alright, folks, as you heard, we are going to be talking about wearables, which is probably what the most favorite topic of your hosts, maybe the second most favorite, I don't know.

Daniel: It's definitely something that we talk about fairly frequently in the podcast. And part of that is our bias toward this type of technology, right? We're interested in it but I'd also like to say that there's our we'd like to attribute a part of this to like this being an overarching trend in technology, right? We're not just trying to cherry pick the things that we think are interesting. We're trying to pick the things that we also think are impactful. And I think wearables are an impactful technology trend.

Farbod: Speaking of impact, and the impact that wearables have on today's topic, which is all about medicine. Let's talk about today's sponsor, Mouser Electronics. Mouser, as you folks probably know, by now, they are one of the world's biggest electronics distributors, they have a lot of insight on what bleeding edge looks like in various industries, one of those being the medical industry. So, they talk about medical tech, and this article that we're gonna link in the show notes. As Dan mentioned, one of the reasons we love talking about wearables is because of just how powerful technology really is. So, in this article, they dive deep into how advances in medicine have allowed us to do things that we never thought we would when it comes to treatment. So now you have wearables that can track patient's health, when they're home, instead of having to constantly come in for checkups, making them just live an easier life, they talk about how robotics allows surgeons to do like entire surgeries that are minimally invasive, far, far away from where the patient is, at, really, if you're interested into like how engineering and technology have slowly but surely made their way into the medical realm and change the entire paradigm, you should check this article out, they break it down into sections, then they talk about how different suppliers they work with are meeting the engineering and technology demands of every one of these applications. So, you get that nitty gritty detail that you're probably pretty interested in if you're like us.

Daniel: Yeah, I'm with you. So, like the beginning, the article is kind of like Med-tech for dummies talks about, like all these different realms of medical technology. The second half is really interesting, because they go into like, these are the specific components you could buy if you want to prototype and try and build something that is like this, that your own. As makers, that's something that like, you know, gets our blood flow and looking at something where it's like, Hey, here's this cool concept. Now, here's your parts list, you need to go build it.

Farbod: They really understand us as people, right? They like lure us in and they hook us once we're interested in, they're like, by the way, we know you want to do this on your own. We know your brains already, like moving the gears on how I can do something like this myself. Here's how.

Daniel: That's the only reason we've ever worked with someone for the podcast, right? We believe in what they're sharing. And in this case, you know, we're eating Mouser’s dog food.

Farbod: We love it. We love it. And again, you guys can probably tell by all the various articles we've covered by Mouser at this point, just how excited we are about these articles. And again, it's a great primer, because in today's article, great segue, by the way, we're talking about wearables for medical applications, like it's very aligned with a lot of the stuff that we talked about. And specifically, today's article is coming out of MIT, right, and it's all about how wearable patches can be used to deliver drugs through the skin. Now, I've said this on the podcast so many times I hated bio, I was never good at it. I know you can administer drugs through the skin. In fact, one time I had an allergic reaction when I was like in middle school, and they gave me some topical cream. They're like, put it on, you're gonna be good. You don't have to take any drugs. I'm like, this is great. I don't have I used to hate swallowing pills. I was like, I don't have to swallow anything isn't amazing. But apparently, there's like this whole issue with stuff that goes on your skin instead of through like your mouth. And the problem is that your skin barrier doesn't usually allow you to absorb stuff in a high enough concentration for it to be useful to you. Now, the flip side of this problem, I think is pretty interesting as well. So, when if you go the other route, like taking an oral drug and going through your digestive tract, the dosage of the drug actually has to be pretty high. To compensate for the loss that happens until the drug is able to reach you. So, there's a lot of wasted.

Daniel: Yeah, I agree. So, like, if we're to sum this up right, there are two pain points. And they're both related to how we want to deliver drugs to the body, the first of which is trying to get it through the skin. You mentioned, sometimes we have topical creams that work. Sometimes we use something like nicotine patches to deliver low volumes of nicotine into the bloodstream of people who are trying to quit smoking. But the skin's outer layer usually stops these small molecules like drugs from getting through. So, you either need to like specifically design a drug to where it's able to penetrate through the skin. Or we've even seen things like micro needles, where it like, it looks like the pointy side of a Velcro patch, with a bunch of little needles that like poke into the skin to break through the barrier. That also isn't super effective at delivering drugs. So, getting it through the skin is challenging. But the main benefit for skin, why do we care about delivering drugs through the skin versus administering them orally? Like I think most people are used to take medicine as the fact that when you bypass that gastrointestinal tract, you actually don't need as much medicine, you can take a lower dose. Because every time, I didn't know this, every time you take a drug, there's like a certain percentage loss and the gastric system that never even makes it into your bloodstream.

Farbod: Yep, yep. And you brought it up. It's like, why are we so obsessed with the skin stuff, and you kind of hit the nail on the head with the thing you said last, which is there's loss. But talking about micro needling, I have a lot of friends that are estheticians, which is I think, skincare experts, that's at least how I perceive them. It's a very common routine to do for people that are very concerned about their skin aging or anything like that they do the micro needling process to get those nutrients into their skin.

Daniel: Does it hurt?

Farbod: I've never done it. I've done acupuncture before. And that kind of like stings, but you get used to it. But I imagine if you were like constantly putting needles that are basically poking holes in your like tiny holes into your skin, it has to not be comfortable, at the very least, right? And people still do it, because like the cosmetic industry, anti-aging, like these are very popular things that people care a lot about. So, if there was a way to do this, without the needles, and maybe even doing it better, not only does it have like direct medical benefits, but then there's this entire market where people might not necessarily be doing this for like our health. It's just like, fun isn't the right word, but like for aesthetic purposes. And that resolves a pretty big pain point for a lot of people. And we've kind of like talked about the problem, right? We've talked about how the skin barrier prevents this from happening and alternatives and stuff like that. But I think it's a good point to get a good area to get into the secret sauce that MIT has come up with. Yeah, yep. All right. So, they have developed this plastic gel like thing that houses the medicine to be delivered in liquid form. Now behind that, they've planted piezoelectric transducers. So, for those of you that don't know, piezo electrics are materials that can generate mechanical vibrations, if electric current is applied to them. On the flip side, if mechanical forces applied to them, like you hit them, they can generate some electric current,

Daniel: It's similar to the way we would call something photovoltaic, right if you can turn light energy into electrical energy, in this case, piezoelectric is our ability to convert electrical energy into mechanical energy and back.

Farbod: Exactly, and the way the team is leveraging this piece of electric transducers is by embedding them behind this liquid medicine pod. And then you put the patch, the device on your face with the medicine facing your skin and the pieces behind it. And as electric current is applied, you start getting these vibrations that generate bubbles in the liquid medicine and these bubbles start to pop. Now Dan, what happens when bubbles pop? Especially in a confined area?

Daniel: Releases some pressure man!

Farbod: It releases some pressure. So, you have this very confined area like think of, what's the word I'm thinking? The pots that lockup and then you can cook your food faster.

Daniel: Pressure Cooker?

Farbod: Pressure cooker, yes! Oh my god, pressure cooker. So, you have this insane amount of pressure that's building up. Well, in this case, it's not boiling. It's the vibration that's causing it. And as the bubbles pop, it's able to force that medicine through that layer that usually prevents anything from going too deep in. So that's the gist of how these folks are able to deliver medicine that could usually not be delivered. Is that good, do you think?

Daniel: Yeah, I think you hit it a man. And like, one of the things that made me really interested about this, obviously, the piezoelectric approach is pretty interesting to try and like use electricity, use a device outside of the body to kind of generate a pressure to force the medicine in through the skin. That's interesting. I appreciated the way that we talked about bubbles bursting against the skin. They called it producing micro jets of fluid that penetrated the skin's outer layer. To me, that sounded very similar to micro needling. And I was curious, like, like we talked about at the beginning of the episode. Is this painful? Is it gonna hurt like, it sounds painful, if you're saying you're gonna use piezoelectric like. Basically, ultrasound like ultrasonic waves, almost like you're gonna generate vibrations to force drugs through my skin. It's like using these vibrational waves to dig tunnels in my skin said the medicine can get through easily. I was wondering, does this hurt? And in the title of the article, they say it's painless. So, I'm like, obviously, it doesn't hurt how and why doesn't this hurt? So, I went back, like you said, we're a little bit rough in the biology department, I went back and I did a little bit of studying on the skin, the structure of the skin. And turns out, you have three main layers in the skin, there's the hypodermis, the dermis and the epidermis. The epidermis is the outer layer of the skin. And that's mostly like what's exposed to air and it's like kind of the thin rough part of the skin as opposed to the soft, squishy stuff inside. Turns out most of the nerves and nerve endings are in the hypodermis and in the dermis. And most of the blood vessels are in the hypodermis and in the dermis. Most of the hair follicles are inside the epidermis and the dermis and the only thing the epidermis does on the outside is kind of protect things from being penetrating inside to the dermis, because that's where your blood vessels are. And that's where, you know, foreign objects can be circulating inside your skin, right and getting inside your body. So, what this is doing is it's really penetrating the epidermis, the part that doesn't have the ability to feel much pain doesn't have a lot of risk associated with it. And it's penetrating through the epidermis into the dermis where the blood circulates. So, it's to me, it's kind of like, like poking through the outer wrapper of the skin without all the way going down to the nerves and causing, you know, intense pain, what it's really doing is kind of forcing the medicine to make its way through the outer protective layer and into the inner layers of the skin, where it can start to enter your bloodstream and circulate through the rest of your body. So again, if we're talking about how can we make drug delivery efficient, we're not talking about trying to, you know, ingest something in your mouth, have it digested in your stomach, have your digestive system pool into your intestines, and then somewhere in your intestines that pulls the medicine out of your blood or out of your like digested food and into your bloodstream where it might get filtered up or kidney we're not sure it right. Like it seems like a very convoluted path to get medicine in. That's why we have so many losses when we ended, like ingest medicine through the gastric system. But when we talk about the big picture here with the skin, and what they've been able to achieve here at MIT is like it just it goes through the epidermis, and then bam, it's in your blood flow and your dermis, it reminds me of a basic thermodynamics equation, if there's going to be like an efficiency loss at every single step, every single time you convert energy from one form to another or in this case, you try to take medicine from one area of the body and to another to deliver it to your bloodstream, there's going to be some efficiency losses. And that's why we have to like use these massive doses for orally induced medicine. But this team from MIT has found a way to do it painlessly, they deliver drugs to the skin. So, it goes in very quickly. And it solves this problem, which is like the outer layer of the skin, the epidermis, usually stops these drug molecules from entering, and you didn't have to use things like sharp needles to poke it through, right, you just use soundwaves basically.

Farbod: Exactly. And you're still able to achieve the same goal of what microneedling did, which is with the increase in penetration, you have a more consistent effect of the drug like lasting for a period of time, and you get a wider coverage in regards to where it's applied. Now, I think it's worth noting that this approach of using ultrasonic waves, that's not novel, apparently folks have kind of done this in the past. But the limiting factor to YCL adaptation has always been that this machinery was very bulky, like you have to go somewhere. They would, I'm assuming bring out something like those ultrasonic scans they do if you're pregnant, or they're looking at your body and they put it on you and someone's waiting. Now this is like a wearable device. It's a small patch, relatively small patch that you get to put on you and then it can administer the drug for you. Which goes back to what we were talking about in the Mouser article at the beginning of the episode, which is wearables have allowed us to live our lives while receiving treatment, or like just having our health monitor.

Daniel: Yeah, like healthcare gets integrated into your life, right? It's not pause everything you're doing and go see your doctor. It's, you know, I'm sitting here at my desk. I'm recording a podcast episode. I'm also concurrently getting some medicine induced through this patch on my arm like that's really, really interesting and advances in technology, especially using these like, very, very micro-piezoelectric transducers allows us to scale down the size of that towards something like you can slap on your arm. And one of the things I thought it was interesting as well, the patch that all this, you know, it's the substrate that carries the medicine and also carries these piezoelectric transducers. It's a silicone base polymer, you mentioned that at the beginning, but it sticks to the skin without any extra tape too. So, it's like, it's literally you just put this patch on. That's it, end of day, no worries about it, it'll deliver the medicine on its own. You don't have to do anything like, like worry about strapping a device to your arm. That doesn't create a great user experience versus saying, like, just put this on your arm like a sticker. And the medicine is gonna find its way in.

Farbod: Yeah, absolutely. And now let's talk about the so what so like they've done this, what are the results? How does it perform? So, we've already talked about the fact that it can do what micro needling did, right? But some figures that I think are interesting, it's able to deliver 26 times higher concentration of a drug versus if no sensor, no ultrasonic is being used at all, if you were just rubbing on yourself, and in comparison, to micro needling, you can achieve the same amount of delivery that micro needling could do in six hours within 30 minutes.

Daniel: Yeah, so we talked about the two alternatives to this for, you know, drug delivery through the skin. One of those is unassisted drug delivery, that's just applying the medicine straight to the outer layer of the skin. It took 26 times as long to deliver the same dose that we got with this new piezoelectric method. And then when we did micro needling, right, it was 12 times more effective than micro needling. So, a huge step change in terms of how efficiently we're able to deliver drugs into the body, through the skin. And the big plus here is it, you know, they keep mentioning it, and I kind of hyper fixated on it. But it's painless, which is something that I was doubtful at first. But it's super interesting and compelling, the fact that you can basically use sound waves to vibrate holes in your epidermis, and it doesn't feel like it hurts at all.

Farbod: And the best part, at least in my opinion, is the convenience of it. So now, I mean, I've never been to an esthetician. But if I wanted to go through this process, I would usually have to go to an Aesthetician sit down for a while have someone else do this process to me. I don't know if they do drug delivery, I think it's mostly for anti-aging purposes. But now just stick with me for this example. But now with this solution, I can like you said slap it onto my shoulder or whatever, and or maybe even my face and shoot a podcast with my friend and talk about MIT's work on this new drug delivery thing. That's the real benefit that mean. So, like if we were to recap, what's going on here, right? Traditionally, drug delivery usually goes through your mouth goes through your digestive tract. And you know, that works for the most part. But there's a lot of loss that happens because the drug makers have to compensate for the amount of loss that your digestive tract takes from that drug before it reaches you. And it starts taking effect. So topical or applying the drug to your skin is another alternative. But the skin barrier prevents drugs being able to effectively get through as well. But if we could get through, we would be able to use much, much less of any drug to get the exact same use case out of it. So how do we overcome that? How do we overcome the barrier? Well, these folks at MIT, came up with a technique that uses ultrasonic waves, essentially vibrations that press on liquids that are on a patch on your face, or anywhere in your body to create little bubbles that force jet streams through that layer through that layer that's preventing the drug delivery to begin with. So that he can effectively go into your skin get consistent drug delivery, and even increase the area that they're impacting. And in comparison, to what is let's just call it the state of the art is which is micro needling, this thing can do in 30 minutes, what micro needling can do in six hours, and it can deliver drugs 26 times better with this device than it would without it by just straight up rubbing it yourself.

Daniel: Good. Nailed it. And I think one of the things we want to highlight here is just how elegant of a solution this is. Instead of something brute force, like using an array of needles to poke holes in your skin, you just, you apply some pressure and let the medicine force its own way in which I think is awesome. And it you know, in the long term, it definitely reduces waste as well, right? You don't have to figure out how to dispose of these microneedles at the end of the day. You take the patch off and there's no biomaterials that have been like poking into your bloodstream or anything like that. It's super interesting. And I'm excited to see how they use this for skin conditions, systemic conditions where you need, like drugs constantly delivered into your body or, you know, other types of treatments like hormones where I know that we use some topical creams for that today. And we just mentioned we can do 26 times more effectively now. So, this this might be a solution for that as well.

Farbod: Yeah. I mean, I don't know if this is possible, but imagine a day where instead of needing your Flintstones multivitamins that, you know, maybe you only need 1/10 of it in weight, you can now administrate it through this method. And think about all the people all across America or even the world that are taking Flintstones vitamins and the amount of weight we can save by the shipping and cost and all that good stuff. It adds up, man. Yeah, it adds up. So, with that said, I think it's a good point to end the episode on. Yeah?

Daniel: Yeah, that's the pod!

Farbod: So, before we do, we've kind of forgotten the last episode, I want to give a quick shout out to all of our fans. Azerbaijan, you guys have still been rocking with us. And if that, if I'm not mistaken, South Korea, you guys made us reach top 200 in the Apple podcast app chart. Wow. Thank you. I don't know what to say besides, thank you. Thank you. But yeah, on that note, thank you so much for listening. And as always, we will catch you in the next episode.

Daniel: Piece!


That's all for today The NextByte Podcast is produced by Wevolver, and to learn more about the topics with discussed today visit Wevolver.com.

If you enjoyed this episode, please review and subscribe, via Apple podcasts Spotify or one of your favorite platforms. I'm Farbod and I'm Daniel. Thank you for listening and we'll see you in the next episode.

As always, you can find these and other interesting & impactful engineering articles on Wevolver.com.

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