A further distinction is that the company tailors the design of its arrays for optimal delivery of particular drugs by adjusting the length of its needles, which can vary from 350 to 850 microns (or a mere onethird to two-thirds of a millimetre) long. Human studies begin in 2017 to assess the effectiveness of this customized approach.
A significant advantage of the technology is its ease of use: the microneedles fit into a conventional syringe and don’t require any technical skill to administer. Stoeber foresees a day when consumers will be able to order vaccines online and inject themselves at home.
CMC Microsystems helped throughout the development process, he says, from CAD software for early design efforts to fabrication, which was made possible in part through CMC’s financial assistance awards, which cover up to 80 percent of micro-nano fabrication costs up to $2,000.
“The biggest challenges were in process and design,” he says. “Our technology allows us to make large quantities at low costs.”
More recently, Dr. Stoeber and his team have integrated an optofluidic biosensor into the microneedle array, creating a less invasive way to monitor the levels of therapeutic drugs in patients. Current monitoring uses hypodermic needles to extract blood several times a day; this alternative offers a faster, cheaper and painless process that might one day enable patients to self-monitor.
Barely piercing the skin, the microneedle technology collects a microscopically small amount (less than a millionth of a microliter) of interstitial fluid, the clear liquid found near the surface of the skin. Analytes inside the hollow needles react with the fluid, giving optical sensors the information they need to determine drug levels.
Earlier this fall CMC honoured Sahan Ranamukhaarachchi, Dr. Stoeber’s graduate student and company co-founder, with the Brian L. Barge Microsystems Integration Award for his work on the microneedleoptofluidic biosensor. Microdermics also won the $110,000 first prize in the BC Innovation Council’s New Ventures BC annual competition, the largest start-up technology competition in the province.
“It is exciting to take something from the lab and bring it into the real world,” says Stoeber.