UBC engineer develops microneedle that takes pain out of testing

Published on Monday, July 25, 2016


(Reposted from original Vancouver Sun article)

Researchers at the University of B.C. have created a “lab on a chip” that could spell the end of painful, multiple daily blood tests for patients on intravenous antibiotics.

What is it?

A microneedle — created by engineering PhD student Sahan Ranamukhaarachchi — is only one-tenth as wide as a syringe needle and practically painless. Using microfluidics and optics, the new device is designed to monitor levels of the antibiotic vancomycin without drawing blood.

Why do we care?

Vancomycin is given intravenously to treat meningitis, complex skin infections, inflammation of the heart and bloodstream infections. However, antibiotics like vancomycin can have dangerous side-effects if their levels in the blood aren’t closely controlled.

Who benefits?

People taking vancomycin may be tested three or four times daily by drawing blood, which is time-consuming for patients and medical staff, and painful for patients. And according to UBC research, there are at least 10 other drugs used by millions of patients worldwide that could be monitored using this non-invasive technology.

How does it work?

The inside of the microneedle is prepared to bind with vancomycin and then used to draw a tiny amount of fluid from just below the skin, without piercing the way a needle does. A second fluid changes colour in response to the amount of vancomycin present. A weak laser detects the colour change and reliably predicts the level of the drug in the patient’s bloodstream.

What’s next?

The UBC spinoff company Microdermics intends to commercialize the lab-on-a-chip technology, as well as microneedle systems for vaccinations and insulin, and drug delivery without pain or bleeding. Studies show that fear of needles is a major reason people avoid medical care and vaccines. About half of all people have some needle phobia, according to CEO Grant Campany.