- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 28, 2000

SAN FRANCISCO Get set to say goodbye to the hypodermic needle and its "ouch."
Both may become obsolete as an exciting new family of painless drug-delivery devices make their medical debut, developers predicted at a meeting here.
Among the needle alternatives described:
An array of "micro-needles" thinner than a human hair that pierce the skin without causing pain.
A handheld injector that painlessly shoots tiny drug pellets into the skin at supersonic speeds.
An inhaler that uses ink-jet-printer technology to spray tiny drug particles into the lungs.
A truly cutting-edge device that uses microscopic razor-sharp blades to painlessly pierce the skin so medicine can flow into the bloodstream.
These devices may be critical for wide use of gene therapy and a new generation of drugs made with biotechnology, according to Dr. Igor Gonda of the Aradigm Corporation in Hayward, Calif.
He was among a panel of scientists who reported at the 219th national meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
"The products of biotech almost invariably need to be injected," Dr. Gonda said. "These molecules are too sensitive to be administered through the hostile environment of the gastrointestinal tract. The skin is practically impermeable to them."
Biotechnology products such as human insulin and human-growth hormone are protein molecules. If taken by mouth as pills, they would be digested and torn apart just like meat or beans in the stomach and intestines.
Scores of new protein-based drugs are being developed. An intensive, behind-the-scenes effort has been under way to find patient-friendly ways of administering them.
Many consumers balk at jabbing themselves with a hypodermic needle several times each day.
Scientists predicted that the research eventually will end the hypodermic syringe's 150-year reign as the standard way of getting many drugs into the body.
Some of the hypodermic-needle alternatives are being tested on humans in clinical trials and could be on the market in a few years, scientists said.
Currently, "skin patches" are the main way of painlessly giving drugs through the skin. These medicated adhesive pads, however, can be used for only a handful of drugs that pass easily through the skin and into the bloodstream.
Dr. Mark Prausnitz of the Georgia Institute of Technology said that microprocessor-based drug-delivery systems are being developed to fill another major medical need: giving drugs in a slower, more natural way in response to body needs.
"For example, many diabetics need to receive a low level of insulin all day long, with increased doses at mealtimes," he said in an interview. "New delivery systems may be better able to mimic the pancreas by giving small amounts of insulin all day and increased amounts at mealtime."
The ACS is a nonprofit organization with 160,000 members. It is the world's biggest scientific organization. About 20,000 members have gathered here this week for 9,000 reports on new discoveries in chemistry, a central part of sciences ranging from astronomy to zoology.
Distributed by Scripps Howard.

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