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No Need For the Needle

December 27, 2004
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Called SonoPrep and manufactured in the U.S., the device—which could eliminate needles from medical practice—has caused a sensation in medical circles, making the front page of the Boston Globe and receiving top billing on American TV. It was developed over two decades by a team that includes Professor Joseph Kost from BGU’s department of chemical engineering, and bioengineering Professor Robert Langer of MIT, where Kost did his postdoctoral work. “We developed it to meet a need,” Kost explained.

SonoPrep applies ultrasound waves to the skin for 15 seconds, disrupting a protective membrane to allow fluids to enter or exit. The openings permit larger molecules, including those of many drugs, to pass quickly through the skin, which, 24 hours later, returns to normal. Manufactured by Sontra, a company based in Franklin, Massachusetts, the device will sell for US $2,000.

The FDA made it the first approved technology to use ultrasound for quickly anesthetizing the skin. Using the device, it takes only five minutes for lidocaine cream to take effect, instead of the one hour needed to prepare patients for painful procedures such as the insertion of catheters and infusion tube needles, and taking biopsies.

FDA approval is expected to lead to a whole new method of cost-effective drug delivery without needles. “We are now able to focus on a whole series of new applications that replace needles with ultrasound technology,” Kost said. A cheap, Band-Aid-like device with a sensor will be available in the next few years to test glucose levels in the blood of diabetics without having to prick their skin with a needle several times a day, Kost predicted. A deal for such technology has already been signed with the Bayer Pharmaceuticals Corporation’s diagnostics division.

There are competing technologies for needle-free drug delivery, such as those with electric fields that require batteries, said Kost, but he believes his device is faster, more widely applicable to local pain relief, and can be applied to the later systemic delivery of medications.

“It’s incredibly promising,” Dr. Charles Berde, director of pain-treatment services at Boston’s Children’s Hospital, told the Boston Globe. “I see it as a methodology of getting a variety of other drugs across the skin.” Berde said the device could eliminate delays connected to blood testing and be especially useful for children who are afraid of needle procedures.

Sontra will test SonoPrep to administer painkillers such as the opiate fentanyl, which is often given to cancer patients, significantly reducing the current 18 hours it takes for the drug to have an effect on the brain. It should prove especially useful for people with unpredictable pain, said Dr. Janet Abrahm, director of the pain and palliative care program at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.

For further information, please contact Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, P.O. Box 653, Beersheva 84105, Israel; Tel: 972-8-646-1111; Web site: www.bgu.ac.il

By Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, Jerusalem Post

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