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Squishy skin treatment

A novel drug-delivery technology being developed at Otago could revolutionise the treatment of some skin conditions.

Dr Eng Wui Tan and Sean Mackay (Department of Chemistry) are researching a topical treatment for non-cancerous tumours of the vascular system, commonly called strawberry birthmarks, and for other related disfiguring conditions such as wounds with excessive scar tissue, known as keloid scars.

The pair explain that the technology will deliver very small, soft, skin-penetrating capsules that are loaded with drugs and are able to change their shape and squeeze between gaps in skin cells directly to the affected areas.

“The skin works very well as a natural barrier,” Tan notes, “so we are having to overcome the skin's ability to keep these things out.”

They have named the new technology “squish” because of the way the capsules or nanoparticles “squish” their way between the skin cells.

They say that current treatments for such conditions include surgery and oral drugs that can take a long time and have adverse side effects.

Mackay says that the research came about after he heard the former professor in plastic surgery at Otago, Dr Swee Tan, talking about problems using beta-blockers to treat strawberry birthmarks. Mackay thought that his PhD research on drug delivery systems could be applied to improve the treatment.

The pair says that, if the technology works, it feasibly could be applied to any skin-related conditions, including melanomas.

The three-year research project is being funded through the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

Photo: Graham Warman
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