|Imagine if patents had existed in time for the inventor of the wheel to file one. From cars to just about anything else that rolls, the resulting royalty fees would make Scrooge McDuck’s vault look like a kiddie pool. Not one to miss out on a chance to capitalize on its own ideas, HP has implemented its inkjet technology to create a microneedle medicine patch that it licenses to medical device companies.|
However, this microchip-like patch bears little resemblance to your typical nicotine or contraceptive patch. Current over-the-counter patches enable the user to absorb the contents through the skin. However, in order to deliver more regulated doses of larger drugs or medicine that easily dissolves in water, you need to inject deeper into the skin with small, coated needles. Scientists at HP Labs found that the most effective delivery method closely resembled HP’s bubble jet ink technology.
In a bubble jet, resistors generate heat that creates a bubble in the ink. This bubble expands and eventually pushes its way out of a nozzle and onto the paper as an ink droplet. Now replace the ink with medicine, the nozzle with a microneedle, and the paper with a patient, and you get the picture. This technique gives doctors more control over dosage and makes injections far less painful for patients.
With regard to commercial prospects, the future looks bright. HP has already licensed the technology to Irish startup Crospon and plans to aggressively market the technology in the life sciences sector. However, don’t expect the one inch square patch to hit the market for another few years. The extended testing and approval process will require patience and diligence from all parties involved. Regardless, the microneedle patch shows that key technology originally used to roll out photos and documents can also save lives.