For the first time in India, it has been possible to make a microneedle so that the COVID vaccine does not cause any pain. This needle is thinner than a human hair. As a result, syringes are no longer needed for injections. Micropumps have also been made to push medicine into our bodies, using the microneedle, painlessly.

Researchers at the Dept. of Electronics & Electrical Communication Engineering of the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) in Kharagpur have developed a micropump and microneedle which are integral parts of transdermal drug delivery systems capable of administering large and viscous drug molecules in a painless way.

The innovation will further enable transdermal application of COVID-19 vaccine. The research was published in the international science journal Nature and IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers). The study was conducted with the financial support of the Union Ministry of Science and Technology and the Union Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.

Also read: COVID patients on hydroxychloroquine more likely to be re-infected: Report submitted to ICMR

In India, people have a habit of taking tablets and syrups without a doctor’s prescription. But no matter how old we are, whenever we see injection needles in the hands of doctors and nurses, the fear of pain sets in. Even after the needle has pierced, we still feel the pain because of the dosage and the large molecules of drugs injected into our bodies. In medical science terminology, it is termed Transdermal Drug Delivery.

The nurses try to normalize the area where the medicine was inserted with a syringe. And one has to endure pain for so long.

Research has been conducted over the last few decades in various countries of the world, including America, to overcome the fear of taking injections. A 'painless injection device' has also been introduced in America and a few more countries. Similar initiatives were taken in India in the last few years. However, there was not much success. It was not possible to make the injection process completely painless, due to the lack of necessary technology.

The innovation by IIT Kharagpur has not only reduced the diameter size of the microneedles but has also increased the strength so that they do not break while penetrating the skin.

The head researcher, Professor Tarunkanti Bhattacharya said, “We have fabricated high strength glassy carbon microneedles which can withstand the skin resistive forces. Added to this is our designing of the ionic polymer-metal composite membrane based micropump which increases the flow rate of the drug molecules in a controlled and precise manner. We have further integrated this microneedle and micropump to achieve controlled drug delivery.”

Also read: Rail services to remain closed on day of full lockdown; multiple trains cancelled

The microneedles are fabricated using SU-8 precursor and converting them by means of Carbon Microelectromechanical (C-MEMS techniques to glassy carbon microneedles with outer diameter 55 micrometres, inner diameter 35 micrometres.) This process further enhanced the quality, strength, and biocompatibility of the product with eight-times increased hardness, 4.8 times increased mechanical stiffness (Young’s modulus), 418 times higher compressive strength and 363 times higher bending strength than the skin resistive forces.

It showed a flow rate of 0.012 microlitre per second of deionized water at 8 kilopascals. The other segment of the device, the micropump, has been designed as a flat-walled nozzle diffuser made from ionic polymer-metal composite membrane with gold coating. This micropump achieved a flow rate of 30 microlitres per minute at 5V square wave at 0.1Hz.

With the COVID-19 vaccine coming into the market in a few months, many people will have to receive the vaccine. Researchers of Kharagpur IIT have helped in making the process painless.