Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers have found a way of harnessing ultrasound waves for non-invasive drug delivery or needle-free vaccinations.

Ultrasound — sound waves with frequencies greater than the upper limit of human hearing — can increase skin permeability by lightly wearing away the top layer of the skin, an effect that is transient and pain-free.

“This could be used for topical drugs such as steroids — cortisol, for example — systemic drugs and proteins such as insulin, as well as antigens for vaccination, among many others,” says Carl Schoellhammer, MIT graduate student in chemical engineering and co-author of the study, the Journal of Controlled Release reports.

Researchers found that applying two separate beams of ultrasound waves — one each of low and high frequency — can uniformly boost permeability across a region of skin more rapidly than using a single beam of ultrasound waves, according to an MIT statement.

“It’s a very innovative way to improve the technology, increasing the amount of drug that can be delivered through the skin and expanding the types of drugs that could be delivered this way,” says Samir Mitragotri, professor of chemical engineering at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who was not part of the research team.

Daniel Blankschtein, Robert Langer and Douglas Hart, professors at MIT and Baris Polat, former doctoral student in the Blankschtein and Langer groups, co-authored the study.

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