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'Micro Needle' Treatment Could Offer Alternative To Surgery For Skin Cancer Patients

Pittsburgh-based SkinJect has created a patch with "micro needles" that can deliver drugs to targeted areas for patients with skin cancer.

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their life

But thanks to a new device from a Pittsburgh-based company called Skinject, some people with skin cancer may be able to skip invasive surgeries.

“Skinject is a totally new approach to handling this problem which is growing throughout the world as more and more people expose their skin to the sun,” said the company’s CEO James Nolan.  

Skinject works by using micro needles to deliver a drug topically.

It sprung from a University of Pittsburgh researcher who realized the decades-old drug doxorubicin could be used to activate the body’s immune system to attack basal cell skin cancer.

Credit SkinJect
SkinJect's "micro needle" patch is smaller than a finger pad and can treat certain types of skin cancer by releasing a drug directly into the affected area.

Skinject takes that drug, combines it with a cellulose-like material and then uses that mixture to create the micro needles. Hundreds of those needles fit on a patch no larger than the pad of a person’s index finger

“And it literally goes into the skin, dissolves and attacks the basal cell cancer,” Nolan said.

Typically, if a suspicious lesion is found to be cancerous, a dermatologist will surgically remove it. But with Skinject, no surgery is needed.

“Surgery is always costly,” Nolan sad. “And you have the plastic surgery that goes along with it, because if you have the basal cell cancer on your face for example, you don’t want the scarring.”

The company claims its deliver system is better than applying the drug as a cream or with a traditional patch because it ensures the medication passes through the skin barrier and that it gets to the right area at the proper concentrations.

“That fundamentally is the major discovery,” Nolan said.

Nolan said because of the micro needles’ small size, a person won’t feel them sink into the skin.  

“The technology is in the angles and the way the needles are made,” Nolan said.  “There’s a very sophisticated process in making the micro needles that involves several steps … You couldn’t just make them in your kitchen.”

The company expects to enter phase one and two FDA human clinical trials for basal cell cancer. The goal is that the technology will also be effective in fighting squamous cell cancer and eventually the more deadly melanoma-type skin cancers.

In this week's Tech Headlines: 

  • The University of Pittsburgh will soon offer a graduate level course in hacking -- but not the illegal kind.  The “Hacking for Defense” course will allow students to work with the U.S. Department of Defense and Intelligence Community to find new ways to solve problems that threaten national security and endanger military lives. Officials with the Swanson School of Engineering said the course will “teach students how to apply lean business strategies popularized by Silicon Valley and the tech startup community to real problems faced by DoD/IC.” 
  • The U.S. government said automakers should make cyber security part of their product development process by assessing risks and designing in protections. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration released guidelines this week that said companies should identify safety critical systems such as engine control computers and limit their exposure to attacks. The agency also wants automakers to limit access to car owners' personal data. The guidelines aren't requirements but will go into effect after a 30-day public comment period. Many auto makers are already implementing many of the recommendations and have set up best practices and information-sharing methods.