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2012-08-13 09:49:14

Microneedles have been made using a variety of fabrication processes in diverse materials such as metals, glasses, sugars, plastics and polymers. The Tyndall National Institute, which leverages over €200M in high-tech research infrastructure, is a world leader in the fabrication of silicon microneedles using wet etching technology, which involves depositing thin glass-like squares (known as masks) on a thin disk or wafer of silicon, and then placing the wafer – which has a very precise crystal structure – into a hot bath of potassium hydroxide for several hours. Very tight process control is achieved through an acquired in-depth knowledge of etch rates across the many crystal planes in a silicon wafer, allowing a precise identification of the exact endpoint required to produce an array of sharp-tipped needles. The interaction between the mask shapes, the crystal planes of the silicon and the etchant results in the formation of octagonal cone-shaped microneedles. These ultrasharp needles have extremely smooth surfaces and exhibit excellent mechanical and structural robustness. Both solid and hollow needles have been fabricated, and  by using silicon masters and micromoulding procedures, the microneedle arrays can also be replicated in polymeric materials.
The Tyndall approach allows the realisation of silicon microneedles of any desired height, density, and sharpness. Mechanical characterisation has shown the KOH-etched needles are stronger, more robust and thus more durable than their dry etched counterparts of similar design.
Current research is focused on the further refinement of both solid and hollow silicon needles, the development of polymer microneedles, the creation of longer needle arrays and the integration of these needles with microfluidic assemblies in order to create a complete system for interstitial fluid withdrawal. The teams at Tyndall/UCC and their collaborators have published over sixty papers in this area, and a number of patent applications have been filed to protect our technology. To date, work has been funded by Science Foundation Ireland, Enterprise Ireland, the HEA, and the European Union. The technology is currently the focus of much industrial attention, and Tyndall is working closely with several potential partners in order to transfer the technology from laboratory to patient.
Selected publications based on the fabrication and application of Tyndall's wet-etched microneedle technology are outlined here; copies are available on request. In recent years the team has been focussed on the development and retention of microneedle-related intellectual property. We would be pleased to discuss the exploitation of this intellectual property with interested parties.