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The Microneedle And (Diagnosing) The Damage Done

Hollow microneedles (like those above) used to inject quantum dots hold promise as tools for diagnosis and treatment of conditions such as skin cancer. Image reproduced by permission of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

A forthcoming paper from Faraday Discussions shows that scientists have been able to create hollow microneedles that can be used to inject quantum dots into skin. Quantum dots are emerging as powerful diagnostic tools for cancers (among other diseases), so this could be a significant advance in medical technology used to diagnose medical conditions. In other words, it can help answer questions like: Do I have cancer? What kind of cancer is it? Where is it located, and is it spreading?

What’s more, the technique used to create the microneedles will allow physicians to make customized microneedles to address the specific needs of individual patients.

Microneedles, as the name suggests, are incredibly small (less than one millimeter in at least one dimension). They also have a staggering array of uses, from portable medical devices to single-use vaccine delivery mechanisms. Not incidentally, they also cause less pain, tissue damage and skin inflammation for patients.

The new findings, which will be published in Faraday Discussions in September, are significant because they will likely allow researchers to inject a solution containing quantum dots into specific layers of skin. As study co-author Dr. Roger Narayan says, “That could be useful for the diagnosis and treatment of skin cancers, among other conditions.”

The hollow, plastic microneedles were created using a laser-based, rapid-prototyping technique, which gives the physician/manufacturer a great deal of control over the length and shape of the microneedle. That means the needle can be designed to be precisely as large and long as it needs to be to deliver the relevant diagnostic dyes or medical treatments to a specific patient. All in all, it’s a breakthrough that will help doctors help us when we’re ailin’.