If you flinch at the sight of a needle or face difficulty in
swallowing pills, here’s an alternative method to alleviate your
pain. The Centre for Biomedical Sciences at IIT Delhi has
created a device, which can be worn like a watch, to administer
medicines using electric current. Agonizing as it may sound, the
process is painfree, claim researchers.
Based on a concept called Iontophoresis, the process
includes application of low intensity current to the skin which
causes a drug to permeate inside without any needle pricks.
Researchers at IITD say this method spares the patient the
pain of injection and is more effective and healthier than
consuming tablets. And the intensity of the current is lesser
than 0.5 milliampere per centimetre square — low enough to
possibly go unnoticed by the user.
“Transdermal delivery of drugs using electric current is
beneficial for patients who have to take injections or
painkillers regularly. It’s a better option since the drug goes
directly into the bloodstream and works faster,” said professor
Sneh Anand, who has been working on the project with Dr Veena
Koul and other PhD scholars at IITD since 2000.
Anand explained, “When consumed orally, a medicine goes to
the stomach, is broken down in the liver and then reaches the
bloodstream. This affects the liver in the long run. We may call
the new process a liver bypass.”
Anand says she started with a device that was in the form of
a computer. After much advancement, the team developed a
handheld device which was further turned into a miniature gadget
— with electrodes — that can be worn around the arm. The
electrode acts as a conductor through which the current passes.
The drug can be administered in the form of a cream. Here’s
how you can make the device function. Wear the strap on the arm.
Lift the electrode to apply the drug on the skin under it. Put
the electrode back and place the battery-operated
electronic component of the device on the strap. Push the button
on it to start the flow of current which drives the ionic
molecules into the skin. Another electrode completes the
The duration of current will depend on the kind of drug
being administered. In case of a liquid or powdered drug, it is
turned into a patch of hydro gel which is a crosslinked polymer
like contact lenses.
Researchers say the device is virtually fail-safe and they
have already tested it with diclofenac diethylamine for pain
relief and with insulin for diabetes. They plan to carry out
similar tests with drugs for Alzheimer’s disease.
“We have tied up with a private company in Ahmedabad to
start a human trial. All formalities for the trial have been
completed and the company will market it soon,” said Anand.
The device is re-usable and its cost of development is
nearly Rs 1,000. “The drug patches can be manufactured for
anything between Rs 10 and Rs 12.
“I can’t say what the commercial cost of this product would
be but it definitely won’t be expensive,” Anand said.