Our research aims to advance precision medicine and theranostics through the development and integration of:

  • targeted drug delivery systems,
  • accessible diagnostic technologies,

with a particular interest in transdermal microneedles and nanotechnology.

Our work has been funded by the EPSRC, MRC, Innovate UK, Research England, Wellcome Trust and Northern Accelerator.

Our current projects focus on the following areas:

Disease detection in the skin

What if you could place a patch on the skin just for a few minutes to know your health status, cancer risk, or whether it’s COVID-19 or just a very bad cold? Our research aims to make that a reality with our microneedle (that is, ‘microscopic needle’) biosensors. We are developing microneedle patches that can capture biomarkers painlessly in the skin, and analyse them in real-time or rapidly, to diagnose disease. Using this technology, we aim to make disease detection and health monitoring more rapid and accurate, but less invasive.

A microneedle array patch
Immunodiagnostic microneedles
Our immunodiagnostic microneedles can capture specific biomarkers (antigens) in the skin without causing pain or distress to the user. The technology could enhance disease diagnosis based on skin biomarker profiles.

Each microneedle biosensor carries an array of microneedles that can be inserted painlessly into the skin to extract and analyse biomarkers from various skin depths, with minimal discomfort to the user. It is rapid (analysis takes only a few minutes to a few hours), highly specific and sensitive. We hope the technique will replace invasive skin biopsies and syringe needles to diagnose skin diseases rapidly and accurately, in a more patient-friendly manner.

Our electrochemical microneedle sensors can provide real-time measurements of disease markers, in this case, a skin burn (Image from: Skaria et al. 2019).

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Drug delivery in the skin

Delivering drugs across the skin is hard work, thanks to the very effective skin barrier whose job it is to protects us from potentially harmful chemicals in the environment. Our work on dermal drug delivery aims to widen the scope of drugs deliverable via the skin, focusing on a number of formulation approaches involving chemical and physical penetration enhancement, such as transdermal microneedle technology. Our most recent innovation in this area has been a versatile and tunable material that can release a drug continuously from a microneedle patch for nearly 2 months following a single dose. We are now focusing on fully characterising the material and investigating its performance in different dosage forms and routes of administration, while seeking collaborations and partnerships to commercialise the technology.

A microneedle patch provides prolonged drug release, painless self-administration by patients and enhanced skin penetration, so that drugs that cannot otherwise be absorbed from a traditional transdermal patch can now be delivered with microneedle patches.

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Understanding and bioengineering the skin

We want to understand the skin better, in health and disease. This knowledge is fundamental to our ability to evaluate our technologies for drug delivery and disease detection in the skin. So we also study how the skin should–and does–behave under laboratory test conditions. We usually do this using excised animal skin. We then use this knowledge to bioengineer skin models that we hope one day will be a like-for-like replacement for animal skin. This will not only help us reduce our reliance on animal tissues for experimentation, but we learn a great deal about the skin in the process, too.

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