A new report, "Microneedles in Medicine: Technology, Markets, and Prospects," from consulting firm Greystone Associates (Amherst, New Hampshire), says that advances in materials processing are creating new devices and new opportunities for minimally invasive medicine.

These advances have led to the development and introduction of devices that employ very small needles — microneedles — to deliver drugs or sample analyte by mechanically perforating the outer skin layer. The processing techniques incorporate one or more technologies that enable the precise machining, extrusion, casting, and/or forming of from one to an array or grid of microneedles.

Evolving microneedle systems will be well-positioned to address a significant segment of the large-molecule biological drugs expected to emerge from the convergence of automated discovery and genome mapping. Microneedles will also be a factor in continuous and remote patient monitors and point-of-care diagnostics, according to the report

But before microneedles find widespread use, researchers must perfect the techniques for optimally inserting them into the skin, and complete the integration of microneedles into full diagnostic, monitoring or drug delivery systems.