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Scope Series 4 RTÉ Two, Thursday, 7.00pm

Cutting Edge: Microneedles

Kathriona and Anthony MorrisseyMedical syringes will lose their sting if the Tyndall Institute in Cork has anything to do with it.

They are producing needles made of silicon that are so small they don't even reach the nerve cells in the skin - and so don't cause pain.

Researchers at Tyndall have spent the last three years making tiny needles that they hope will provide a completely new kind of medical injection. The research is about the fabrication of microneedles. They can be any size but preferred needles are about 0.3mm long and 0.2mm across. The diameter of a typical human hair is about 0.2mm, to give an indication of just how tiny these needles are.

Ordinary syringes are "blunt" instruments that go unnecessarily deep into the flesh, causing pain and tissue damage in the process. These tiny needles are really good because they only go as deep into the skin as needed.

Most drugs and vaccinations only need to get to the base of the outer layer of skin cells, the epidermis. "With vaccinations you don't need to go so deep into the skin" according to Anthony Morrissey of the Tyndall Institute.

This also means that the injections actually can't cause pain. "It means the needle would be painless because it doesn't go deep enough to reach the nerves."

There are many advantages associated with this kind of needle. "If the drug is expensive it is important to reduce the amount of material you put into the skin." These needles would deliver only the tiniest among of drug or vaccine directly to where it is needed within the skin tissue.

"If the needles are integrated into a patch, it is also possible for anyone to use it. In the third world anyone could self-inoculate, you wouldn't need a doctor". Microneedles could also be used for to administer insulin doses for diabetics and make the dreaded trip to the dentist less painful.

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