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Microneedles pioneer pins down top industry award

Novel systems to safely deliver drugs and monitor metabolites recognised twice in 2012.

1 November 2012

A biomedical pioneer who has used BBSRC funding to develop needleless injections based on advanced but painless microneedles has scooped a new award to add to his growing collection of accolades.

Dr Ryan Donnelly of Queen's University Belfast has been awarded the 2012 GlaxoSmithKline Emerging Scientist Award, which is presented annually to scientists from across the globe who have demonstrated significant practical application of knowledge within the pharmaceutical sciences over the last five years. The winner is chosen by senior staff from GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) and the work judged on scientific quality and the actual or future impact in biomedicine.

Read a full Q&A feature on Dr Ryan Donnelly and his work featuring an image gallery of the microneedles.

Ryan Donnelly receiving his award from GSK Vice President Jo Craig.

Ryan Donnelly receiving his award from GSK Vice President Jo Craig.
Credit: Queen's University Belfast

"This award is a nice recognition of the hard work my group has put in over the past few years," says Donnelly. "Our microneedles technology is attracting considerable interest from industry, with a number of co-development projects already underway in a wide range of fields of use."

Dr Donnelly, Reader in Pharmaceutics in the School of Pharmacy at Queen's, has used grants from BBSRC, EPSRC, The Wellcome Trust, the Royal Society and Action Medical Research, delivered his award lecture at the Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences UKPharmSci 2012 conference after receiving his award.

The GSK award is another noteworthy recognition of the potential impact of Dr Donnelly's work on novel systems for drug delivery. Using two different sources of funding from BBSRC, Donnelly and colleagues have developed microneedles less than half a millimetre high or smaller that can safely deliver a constant dose of a drug or compound. The system may prove invaluable for patients who are unable to take oral pills themselves regularly, or who cannot tolerate injections.

An individual 300µm microneedle swelling as it takes up water, prior to diffusing its active compounds across the skin. Image: Ryan Donnelly

An individual 300µm microneedle swelling as it takes up water, prior to diffusing its active compounds across the skin. Image: Ryan Donnelly

Donnelly says that if you look at a microneedle patch with the naked eye, you can see that it's slightly rough and that it feels like Velcro if you run your finger across it. "However, when properly applied, the microneedles puncture the outer layer of the skin without causing pain or bleeding. These tiny needles then swell, allowing controlled administration of even large medicines like insulin, as well as vaccines."

Dr Donnelly collecting the inaugural Queen's Improvement to Society Award

Dr Donnelly collecting the Queen's Improvement to Society Award.

The microneedle patches, which are patch approximately the size of a postage stamp and can be applied to the skin like a normal medical plaster could also be used for minimally-invasive monitoring; the needles, which are made of a hydrogel of biocompatible polymers, can also take up fluids such as blood plasma from the body, and hence measure vital metabolites such as blood sugar. "This application could prove to be particularly important in enhancing medical care for premature babies," says Donnelly.

Earlier in the year on June 8, the work also netted the inaugural Queen's Improvement to Society Award. This award was voted by a panel of students from across the university who saw Donnelly's as holding great potential for improving therapeutic outcomes for patients.

Donnelly adds that his group have obtained significant industrial investment in the technology and are currently working with a major UK over-the-counter medicines company, a UK biotech company and two major international cosmetics company to develop microneedle-based products for drug, vaccine and cosmetic delivery. "It is likely to be five years before patients and consumers begin to benefit from this technology innovation. This will allow for scale-up of production, clinical trials, regulatory approval and marketing," he says.

ENDS

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