London, Oct 16 (ANI): Scientists have come up with a needle-free way to deliver insulin to diabetics. They say that mixing stinging cells from sea anemones into skin cream could be a novel approach to painlessly inject drugs into the patients.
The stinging cells, or cnidocysts, of sea anemones, jellyfish and other cnidarians contain a coiled hollow thread that unravels rapidly when triggered by physical contact.
Unsurprisingly, the threads easily penetrate human skin and can even puncture fish scales.
The threads normally inject venom into the target of the animal's attack but, NanoCyte, a firm based in Or Akiva, Israel, is using them to inject drugs instead.
The firm uses needles 'harvested' from the Mediterranean and Red Sea anemone Aiptasia diaphana, grown in aquariums.
"We use a particular stimulus that causes the release of filaments from the body of the anemone," New Scientist quoted Yaron Daniely, president and CEO of NanoCyte, as saying.
Stinging cells isolated from the filaments are 60 micrometres long and 8 micrometres wide, and contain a hair-like needle 40 micrometres long.
"The key to our work is to be able to control these cells under an environment that doesn't make them trigger [and fire the needle during handling]. The actual process we use is secret, but when you're familiar with the mechanisms of activation you can engineer a manufacturing environment that prevents them triggering," Daniely said.
The stinging cells are added to a cream, which contains the active ingredient to be injected into the skin, some of which diffuses into the cells.
Applying the cream to the skin triggers the stinging cells, possibly because of exposure to water on the skin and in the air.
One square centimetre of cream-coated skin can contain as many as a million tiny needles, and Daniely says that around one-third of the stinging cells in the cream end up pointing in the right direction to fire their needles into the skin - but because each is just a few micrometres thick, the process is painless.
Once discharged, each stinging cell acts as a tiny pump to deliver its content down the needle, also drawing in the active ingredient from the cream.
However, Daniely says that the walls of stinging cells don't allow very large drug molecules to get through.
He said that preliminary work with mice suggests it is possible to use the approach to fire insulin through the skin to reach the bloodstream. (ANI)