Prausnitz's 1998 study has amassed 584 citations

Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering is known for the far-reaching impact of the research conducted by our faculty. In this Q&A feature, we spotlight research by Regents’ Professor Mark Prausnitz.

In 1998, Prausnitz published the paper “Microfabricated microneedles: A novel approach to transdermal drug delivery” in the Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences. Since that time, the paper has amassed 584 citations (Web of Science).

The paper described the first published study on the use of microneedles to painlessly deliver drugs through the skin.

Since that time, Prausnitz has continued to develop the microneedle technology. In 2015, a phase I clinical trial conducted by Emory University in collaboration with Prausnitz’s team found that influenza vaccination using Band-Aid-like patches with dissolvable microneedles was safe and well tolerated by study participants. The results of the study were published in The Lancet.

“It’s very gratifying and exciting to have these patches tested in a clinical trial, and with a result that turned out so well,” Prausnitz said.

The microneedle patch vaccine could save money because it is easily self-administered, could be transported and stored without refrigeration, and is easily disposed of after use without sharps waste.

More recently, Prausnitz publishing findings that suggest a long-activing contraceptive for women could be self-administered using the microneedle skin patch technology.

Why do you think your 1998 study has been cited so frequently?

The field of microneedles has grown to include dozens of researchers that have published more than 1200 scientific articles, a number of companies actively involved in developing microneedles, and a few products already on the market. Since our 1998 study was the first paper in the field, it is commonly cited by the microneedles community.

How could the microneedle skin patch technology help in the developing world?

Lack of healthcare infrastructure, funding, and personnel often limit access to healthcare in developing countries. Microneedle patches can be painlessly self-administered with little or no training, can often be stored without refrigeration, do not generate biohazardous sharps waste, and can be manufactured at low cost. These attributes address many of the limitations of healthcare in developing countries.

What is the timetable for Phase II of the influenza vaccination research?

The microneedle patch technology has been licensed to a company that I helped start called Micron Biomedical. The company is actively advancing the microneedle patch for influenza vaccination and other applications, but the exact timing of development has not been announced.

What other possible applications does this technology have that you are exploring?

In addition to vaccination, we have studied microneedle patches for administration of long-acting contraceptives that are designed to allow women to briefly apply a patch to their skin once per month, instead of taking a pill every day or having an IUD. Our patch invisibly deposits microscopic microneedles just under the skin surface to slowly release a contraceptive hormone for a month.

How soon could this technology be available for commercial use?

Although we have not been involved in their development, there are already a few different kinds of microneedles that are sold for cosmetic purposes, such as dermarollers. There is another kind of microneedle that we developed, which is hollow, measures less than one millimeter in length and can be used for very precisely targeted injections. Another company that I helped start, Clearside Biomedical, recently completed a series of clinical trials to treat the eye using an anti-inflammatory steroid administered by microneedle, and has filed with the FDA for approval to sell it and make it available to doctors.