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Light controls medicinal patch

One way of administering medication to a patient is through a skin patch. Researchers at Empa in St.Gallen together with colleagues at the University of Fribourg have now developed a system that can control the effect of drugs by means of light signals.

Image Credit: Empa
Image Credit: Empa

Many medications are today administered through the skin using patches, but this approach could be controlled more precisely in the future. Researchers at the Laboratory for Biomimetic Membranes and Textiles at Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology (Empa) in St.Gallen have teamed up with colleagues at the University of Fribourg in Western Switzerland to develop innovative nanoreactors for medicinal active ingredients.  

According to an Empa press release, these nanoreactors change the structure when exposed to light of a certain wavelength. More specifically, their surface becomes permeable and the chemically active substances can diffuse from the nanoreactor into the environment. If the colour of the light changes, the chemical reaction stops within seconds. The surface turns impermeable and is ready for the next use. 

"Light switches can be used for the entire spectrum between 450 and 700 nanometers wavelength, i.e. for coloured light from blue to red," said Empa researcher Luciano Boesel. "This opens up many possibilities for the controlled delivery of several drugs or for complex reaction cascades in a single patch."

The researchers are now working with the support of the Swiss National Science Foundation and the National Center of Competence in Research for Bio-Inspired Materials to further optimize their nanoreactors.

"First, we will investigate the precisely controllable release of substances that are already approved for application through the skin, such as certain painkillers," said Boesel. "In the future, however, many additional treatments using 'band-aids with light switches' are feasible."

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