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microneedle patches
Lee K. HouseJun 26, 20236 min read

Microneedle Patches: Definition, Function, and How They’re Manufactured

Can vaccines and other drug solutions be delivered without an intramuscular injection?

If you said yes, then you’re correct.

Transdermal and microneedle patches rely on adhesive skin contact to deliver medications. 

As a flexible material converter, Strouse manufactures skin adhesives that hold medical devices, like the patches that press microneedles up against the skin (albeit not the needles themselves). 

We know creating a safe bond between the adhesive and the skin is crucial for the sort of long-term contact needed to allow the drug solution to take effect, so we’ll discuss the broad concept of microneedles as well as some specifics for you to know how microneedle patches work and how they’re manufactured.

With a complete understanding of microneedle patch function and their production, you’ll be prepared to decide if there’s a type of microneedle patch you want to create and how you plan on going about it. 

What Are Microneedle Patches?

Microneedle patches are a type of transdermal patch that has been embedded with an array of tiny needles to deliver the drug solution. 

Every microneedle patch has an adhesive layer that sticks to the skin and needles that puncture the skin to facilitate drug delivery. Some microneedle patches contain the drug solution meant to enter the body, but others are used in tandem with transdermal patches for solution application. 

There are many potential use cases for microneedle patches, including: drug or vaccine delivery, disease diagnostics, cosmetics, and patient health monitoring. 

Microneedle patches are a safe and easy alternative to certain shots or oral medications, which is ideal for patients at a greater risk of infections or having trouble ingesting oral medicine. 

Occasionally, microneedle patches are used for purposes other than drug delivery, such as storing a patient’s vaccine history under their skin using nanocrystals. 

How Do Microneedle Patches Work?

Microneedle patches rely on prolonged skin contact and pressure to deliver their drug solution effectively. An adhesive backing holds a strip of microneedles loaded with the drug solution against the skin.

The patch can be applied directly onto the body, where microneedles painlessly puncture a patient’s topmost layer of skin. The drug solution then travels through the tiny tunnels created by the needles through the layers of skin until it reaches the dermis, where it enters a patient’s bloodstream through their capillaries.

Microneedle patches can distribute drug solutions consistently over a longer period. Because microneedle patches reach farther into the skin, they can deliver certain prescribed medications that transdermal patches cannot.

WHAT MATERIALS ARE MICRONEEDLE PATCHES MADE OF?

Microneedle patches are created using stick-to-skin tapes with enough strength to carry a small device.

What are the best stick-to-skin tapes?

The inside of the patch is often covered with a ring of skin-safe adhesive silicone, meaning that the microneedle array needs a bare spot in the middle of the patch or some type of adhesive to attach it since it’s challenging to adhere silicone to anything but itself.

Before you finalize your design, consult a manufacturer or skin adhesive resources to seek the right materials for your microneedle patch. 

What are the Different Types of Microneedles?

Depending on the patch’s purpose, physical location, manufacturability, and delivery rate of the drug solution, different types of microneedles are attached to the patches. 

These designs ultimately fulfill the same purpose of spreading a drug through the dermis, but they’re constructed with different layers and materials depending on the ideal delivery method.

SOLID MICRONEEDLES

Solid microneedles function using a two-step application process where the needles puncture the skin and are then removed so the indents can be covered with a transdermal patch. These tiny punctures, imperceptible to the eye, allow the drug solution to seep deeper into the skin. 

While solid microneedles are among the easiest to manufacture, their tiny microincisions can still lead to infections. They are most often used for drug delivery and cosmetic purposes. 

COATED MICRONEEDLES

Coated microneedles are embedded in the skin for extended periods so the outer coating dissolves into the epidermis. Once the solution has had enough time to seep through the epidermis, the coated microneedle patch is removed and disposed of. 

While coated microneedles reduce the application into a single process, they suffer the disadvantage of being limited in how much solution they can deliver based on the thin coating and the amount retained during the initial puncture. 

HOLLOW MICRONEEDLES

Hollow microneedles can puncture the skin and deliver drugs from a drug reservoir. Because of their empty insides, hollow microneedles facilitate the flow of the drug solution down through the needle and into the skin. Like coated microneedles, they simplify the application into a simple, one-step process but are eventually removed from the body. 

The disadvantage of using hollow microneedles is that they can cause leakage and clogging. Yet, they are highly applicable to disease diagnosis practices and can deliver large doses of drug solutions.

DISSOLVABLE MICRONEEDLES

Dissolvable microneedles dissipate once lodged inside the moist inner skin of the human body.

Unlike solid or coated microneedles, often made of silicone or stainless steel, dissolvable microneedles are made of sugar and hydrophilic crosslinked polymers. These are also applied using an adhesive patch, but the needles dissolve in the skin while distributing the solution

Dissolving microneedles are used for drug or vaccine delivery and cosmetic purposes. They can be more challenging to manufacture and might take longer to dissolve, leading to more extended wear. 

HYDROGEL-FORMING MICRONEEDLES

Hydrogel-forming microneedles penetrate the skin and swell when they encounter the body's natural fluids, allowing them to expand and release drugs. 

Unlike the dissolvable variety, hydrogel-forming microneedles are removed along with the adhesive patch once the drug solution has been distributed. They are most commonly used to deliver hydrophilic drugs like caffeine and high-dose drugs like ibuprofen. 

How Are Microneedle Patches Manufactured?

Microneedle patches can be manufactured in a variety of ways, but often, the patches are produced separately from the needles themselves.

For instance, the adhesive patches can be rapidly produced by a flexible material converter, but the needles are often assembled separately and loaded with drug solutions.

Strouse builds adhesive patches to carry medical devices such as microneedles, but we don’t manufacture the needles themselves. Instead, many manufacturers use automatic placement to stick the strip of needles, preloaded with the drug solution, onto the patch. 

Additionally, patches or bandages must remain free of biological waste or excess particles, which is why they’re processed in an area known as a Clean Room. 

See our clean room manufacturing

Clean Rooms are certified to match a high standard of particle control, which is why they’re often used to build medical devices. Because they significantly reduce biological contamination, Clean Rooms can also save you money in sterilizing your products later. 

When you’re creating your microneedle patches, you’ll want to know how you can combine the different elements of your patch, like the skin adhesive and needle array, in the most effective way possible. Partnering with a manufacturer early in the design process will ensure your production is time and cost-efficient. 

If you enjoyed this article and you want to know more about skin friendly adhesives or medical applications, check out our learning center:

Learning Center

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Lee K. House

Copywriter & Content Creator for Strouse. Lee graduated from the University of Alabama in the Spring of 2022 with a double major in English and Spanish.

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