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QUB team develops patch to tackle antibiotic resistance

Professor Ryan Donnelly with a magnified prototype of his micro-needles. Credit: QUB

A team of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast are developing a new skin patch that could help tackle the issue of antibiotic resistance.

The patch uses thousands of tiny ‘micro-needles’ to administer drugs directly into the bloodstream.

Experts say that could help reduce antibiotic resistance, which is caused by the interaction of antibiotics with bacteria in the gut after oral administration.

The research is being led by Ryan Donnelly, Professor of Pharmaceutical Technology at Queen’s, whose work focuses on novel approaches to the administration of difficult to deliver medicines.

This work has the potential to save many lives.

There probably isn’t a bigger health challenge today than antibiotic resistance.

– Professor Ryan Donnelly

The ‘micro-array patches’ are discreet and easy to use, painlessly piercing the skin and turning into a jelly-like material that keeps the holes open and allows delivery of antibiotics into the skin.

“One of the biggest problems is that the huge majority of the drugs are taken orally,” Professor Donnelly said.

“This means that a small quantity of the compound often finds its way into the colon, creating the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria.

“However, it is clearly impractical to expect patients to inject themselves at home - especially considering that more than 20% of people are needle-phobic.

“Admitting patients to hospital every time they need an antibiotic would quickly bankrupt healthcare providers.”

Antibiotic resistance remains a global health emergency.

Antibiotic resistance leads to longer hospital stays, higher medical costs and increased mortality.

– Professor Ryan Donnelly

Placebo patches have already been successfully tested on 10 volunteers in a study published in the International Journal of Pharmaceutics.

The next step is to show that they can deliver the correct dose of antibiotics, before testing them against drugs in capsule form.

If successful, the patches could help significantly extend the lifespan of existing antibiotics, allowing time for development of the next generation of antibiotics.

The Wellcome Trust, the UK’s largest medical research charity, will donate £900,000 to the project next year.

Scientists hope that the drug technology could be used to treat bacterial infections within five years following further tests.

“This exciting project is very much in line with the research ethos of Queen's University, which is centred on global challenges,” Professor Donnelly added.

“With this discovery, we hope to change the lives of people across the world.”