VT Professor Develops Drug Patch Treatment
An assistant professor with the Virginia Tech - Wake Forest School of Biomedical Engineering  has developed a flexible microneedle patch that allows drugs to be delivered directly and fully through the skin. The new patch can quicken drug delivery time while cutting waste, and can likely minimize side-effects in some cases, notable in vaccinations and cancer therapy.
News of the delivery technology was published in a recent issue of the scientific journal, Advanced Materials. Leading development of the flexible patch was Lissett Bickford , now an assistant professor and researcher of biomedical engineering and the mechanical engineering , both part of the Virginia Tech College of Engineering. Work on the technology was completed while Bickford was a post-doctoral research associate at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.
Microneedle patch technology used on the skin has existed for several years, each patch containing an array of hundreds of micron-sized needles that pierce the skin and dissolve, delivering embedded therapeutics. However, because of their rigid chemical makeup, the patches proved difficult in fully piercing into the skin, creating a waste of drug material and a slowed delivery time. Additionally, the patches also have been difficult to produce in bulk; typical fabrication procedures have required centrifugation.
Bickford, with her research team, including Chapel Hill graduate student Katherine A. Moga, were able to develop a new flexible microneedle patch that forms to the skin directly – think a regular household bandage – and then fully pierces the skin and dissolves. Bickford said the softer, more malleable and water-soluble material also allows for more precise control over the shape, size, and composition of the patch, with little to no waste.
The nanoparticle, micro-molding patch is based on Particle Replication In Non-wetting Templates (PRINT for short) technology, developed by University of North Carolina researcher and professor Joseph DeSimone. Unlike other methods for making these patches, the new technology allows for quicker and greater wide-scale production, reducing related costs.
Research and work on the new patch was funded by the National Institutes of Health and Chapel Hill’s University Cancer Research Fund. Advanced Materials wrote of the breakthrough in its July issue.
Bickford earned her bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Texas A&M University in 1998, followed by a master’s degree in biomedical engineering from The University of Texas Austin inn 2001; and a doctoral degree in bioengineering from Rice University in 2010.
At Virginia Tech, she is director and principal investigator of the Translational Oncology & Nano/Pharmacoengineering Laboratory  where she focuses on the development of cost-effective tools for cancer diagnosis and treatment.