A team from the University of Washington has created tiny, biodegradable needles for diagnosing tuberculosis that promise to be easier to use, more accurate, and less painful than hypodermic needles. The microneedles, applied by skin patch, are like putting on bandages and may be more successful with young children afraid of needles, researchers say. The microneedles are made of chitin, a tough but biodegradable material found in the hard outer shells of some insects and crustaceans – in this case, squid.
“The chitin microneedle developed by our team is a huge advance for sensitive and painless diagnostics,” said co-author Dr. Rhea Coler, affiliate professor of global health at the University of Washington School of Public Health. She and colleagues at the Infectious Disease Research Institute in Seattle partnered with researchers from the University of Washington’s department of materials science and engineering.
Researchers successfully tested their device on guinea pigs and recently published their findings in Advanced Healthcare Materials. Microneedles have been used recently to deliver vaccines and other drugs to the body, but not yet for diagnostic tests. The needles are about 1/40th of an inch long and were coated with a small amount of fluid that tests for TB. The microneedles deliver the solution more accurately than hypodermic needles, which must be inserted at an angle of 5 to 15 degrees; otherwise the solution is injected too shallow or too deep. Researchers will continue developing the microneedle TB test and plan to test it on humans. They also hope to develop other diagnostic tests, including allergy tests.
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[Photo: Dr. Rhea Coler]