Veterans Affairs

Iontophoresis drug delivery

Precisely delivers drugs through the skin with no site irritation

Medical & Biotechnology

Scientists at the VA have recently developed an iontophoresis device for the delivery of drug compositions through the skin. The patented technology is available via patent license agreement to companies that would make, use, or sell it commercially.

Iontophoresis is a process that utilizes electrical current to drive ionized pharmaceuticals through the skin. Many drugs, when dissolved in liquid, dissociate into positively and negatively charged ions and, hence, become suitable for delivery through the skin by iontophoresis. A positive or a negative electrode connected to an electrical source can act as an active electrode for delivering these charged ions of substances.

One particular challenge with using iontophoresis for drug delivery is that the skin’s physical reaction to the electrical stimulation of iontophoresis electrode is to polarize the skin with the like-charge to the direct electric current, and polarized skin decreases the effectiveness of the delivery of agents by iontophoresis for any given voltage. The conventional solution to polarization of the skin is to increase the voltage of the electrical stimulation. However, the increased voltage during iontophoresis may cause injury to the skin of the subject. In fact, conventional iontophoresis products and methods have so severely damaged the skin of patients that the products were ultimately blocked from being commercially available to consumers by the FDA. Further, conventional iontophoresis systems use gels. Such gels have a relatively short shelf life. Moreover, these gels can commonly trap sheets of air bubbles on the surface of the skin, reducing the effective contact area of the gel with the patient’s skin surface, which can result in burns.

Given the above, VA researchers have developed an improved iontophoresis device incorporating a smart, wireless patch system. Unique to this system is that it periodically depolarizes the skin of the subject during iontophoresis, thereby negating the skin’s electrical counter-polarization reaction to iontophoresis and improving the effectiveness of drug delivery. Thus, this approach can permit the application of a lower voltage, diminish redness/irritation of the skin due to local histamine release, and/or diminish the possibility of causing a thermal burn to the skin.

Within the skin-attached device, the medication to be delivered can be held in a powdered form separate from a liquid diluent. Upon activation, the two can be mixed and delivery through the skin commenced.

Intermittent readings of resistance of the electric current or light absorbance by the medication solution remaining within the electrode reservoir can allow for highly accurate measurement of the amount of medication delivered, or remaining to be delivered.  Onboard electronics control the pulsed delivery of drugs and can be wirelessly programmed to alter the dosing regimen.

This device could deliver drugs to treat chronic intestinal pseudo-obstruction in individuals with spinal cord injury as described in patents and applications 7,635,709 and PCT/US2017/017717 also from the VA.

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