Antibiotics in blister packs

Injecting antibiotics with skin patches could help fight antibiotic resistance

Image credit: Dreamstime

Researchers at Queen’s University, Belfast, are in the process of creating skin patches that directly and painlessly inject drugs into the bloodstream using thousands of “microneedles”. This could help slow the progress of antibiotic resistance crisis.

Antibiotic resistance occurs when bacteria mutate and develop resistance in response to the use of antibiotics.

Thanks to the misuse of antibiotics in humans and animals, antibiotic resistance is on the rise and already infections such as tuberculosis and pneumonia are becoming harder to treat with the limited number of available antibiotics.

The issue is described by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as “one of the biggest threats to global health, food security and development today”. It is “no longer a prediction for the future, it is happening right now in every region of the world”, the WHO states.

The oral administration of antibiotics contributes to the progress of antibiotic resistance due to the interaction of antibiotics with gut bacteria. When antibiotics are injected, however, they are not exposed to the gut bacteria and are instead excreted via the kidneys. Increasing the proportion of antibiotics administered via injection could extend the lifetime of existing antibiotics.

“One of the biggest problems is that the huge majority of the drugs are taken orally,” said Professor Ryan Donnelly, a pharmaceutical tech expert based at Queen’s University who is leading the research. “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 per cent] of people are needle-phobic. Admitting patients to hospital every time they need an antibiotic would quickly bankrupt healthcare providers.”

Ryan Donnelly with model of skin patch

Queen's University Belfast

Image credit: Queen's University Belfast

In response to this, Professor Donnelly and his colleagues are hoping to develop a skin patch which allows for antibiotics to be injected easily at home, avoiding exposure to gut bacteria.

As the patch is applied to the skin, thousands of microneedles painlessly pierce the top layer of the skin and turn into a jelly-like substance, keeping these tiny holes open as antibiotics are delivered directly to the bloodstream at a controlled rate.

Placebo patches have been tested in an initial trial, and next the researchers will attempt to demonstrate that the patches are capable of delivering the correct dose of antibiotics. Finally, the researchers will compare the performance of the patches with antibiotic capsules. The technology could be used to treat bacterial infections within five years of these final trials.

“We hope to show that this unique antibiotic patch prevents resistance development,” said Professor Donnelly. “If we are successful, this approach will significantly extend the lifespan of existing antibiotics, allowing time for development of the next generation of antibiotics.”

“In doing so, this work has the potential to save many lives.”

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