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Dr. Zhen Gu has been hard at work creating and studying the uses of his “smartpatch”– a patch with hundreds of micro-needles that, when applied to the skin, feels like a band-aid and can deliver drugs directly into the bloodstream. So far, Dr. Gu has been successful at delivering anti-cancer therapeutics and diabetic insulin with varying versions of this patch. Now, he and co-investigators Drs. Caterina Gallippi and Yong Zhu have developed yet another use: delivering blood thinners to prevent thrombosis, or blood clots. Current methods of blood thinner delivery are far from perfect, as they require regular injections, blood testing, and constant dosage adjustment. Over-medicating could lead to disastrous hemorrhaging, while under-medicating would make the drug ineffective at combating clots. To create a more effective and stable delivery system, the research team created a microneedle patch using a polymer that reacts to the amount of clotting enzyme in the blood. Inside the polymeric microneedles is the drug Heparin, a blood thinner. When the microneedles are bombarded with elevated levels of clotting enzyme, they begin to break down and release Heparin into the blood stream. Co-leads on the project and subsequent paper are Yuqi Zhang and Jicheng Yu, both Ph.D. students in Dr. Gu’s lab. According to Yuqi, “…the more thrombin there is in the bloodstream, the more Heparin is needed to reduce clotting.”  Importantly, a recent animal study model illustrated that the patch was more effective at preventing thrombosis than the traditional method of Heparin delivery (injection). The next steps in the study will be more preclinical testing, for which the team is hopeful.”We will further enhance the loading amount of drug in the patch. The amount of Heparin in a patch can be tailored to a patient’s specific needs and replaced daily, or less often, as needed,” says Jicheng, “but the amount of Heparin being released into the patient at any given moment will be determined by the thrombin levels in the patient’s blood.” Effectively, the team has created a self-regulating anti-clotting delivery system– the next step in personalized medicine.

The study was covered by NC State News and the paper, “Thrombin-Responsive Transcutaneous Patch for Auto-Anticoagulant Regulation,” is published in Advanced Materials. Drs. Gu and Gallippi are faculty in BME and co-corresponding author was Yong Zhu, an associate professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering at NC State. Co-authors on the paper include Jinqiang Wang, Nicholas Hanne, Chenggen Qian, Chao Wang, Hongliang Xin and Jacqueline Cole, of BME; and Zheng Cui of NC State.

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