H/O: Skin patch to treat cancer

An experimental patch designed to deliver cancer medications through the skin showed promise in mice and human skin samples, according to new research presented Sunday at the American Chemical Society conference in California, San Diego.

Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed the patch to fight melanoma, a deadly but highly treatable form of skin cancer. The patch is less than a centimeter long and coated with a sticky film, which allows it to be applied and removed from the skin in a minute.

The researchers used the device to deliver an antigen in healthy mice and then compared the immune response to treatment methods often used to vaccinate against the flu and measles. The researchers said the patch elicited “a robust antibody response” and “show promise in eliciting a strong immune response in human skin.”

“Our patch technology could be used to deliver vaccines to combat different infectious diseases,” Dr. Paula Hammond, the head of the Department of Chemical Engineering at MIT and lead author in the study, said in a statement. “But we are excited by the possibility that the patch is another tool in the oncologists’ arsenal against cancer, specifically melanoma.”

The device shows potential for new methods to treat skin cancer, the most common form of cancer in the United States.

Melanoma can be caused by too much exposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun or other sources such as indoor tanning, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly 100,000 new cases of melanoma are diagnosed every year, and 20 Americans die each day from it, according to the American Academy of Dermatology.

The patch is fitted with microneedles, made through a process that scientists call layer-by-layer coating. Researchers say this has advantages over a syringe as it’s painless, easy to administer and reduces risk of infection.

The patch treatment produced nine times the level of infection-fighting antibodies compared to intramuscular injections, used for flu shots, the researchers said. It also produced 160 times the level of antibodies compared to subcutaneous injections, often used for measles vaccines, they said.

While promising, the researchers say they will need to test the patches on melanoma tumors in mice and later humans. The researchers have the ultimate goal of getting the device approved by regulators to be used on the market.

The research was funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology, the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT and the Institute of Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT.