In the past few years, we've seen microneedle-equipped skin patches being designed for everything from pain-free vaccinations to insulin delivery to targeted fat-burning. Now, scientists from Queen's University Belfast are developing a patch that they believe could slow the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

"One of the biggest problems is that the huge majority of the drugs are taken orally," says lead scientist Prof. Ryan Donnelly, regarding antibiotics. "This means that a small quantity of the compound often finds its way into the colon, creating the perfect breeding ground for drug-resistant bacteria."

While this problem is avoided when the drugs are injected, many patients wouldn't want to give themselves needles, or go to a clinic to get them on a daily basis. That's where the skin patch comes in.

Its underside is composed of an array of tiny drug-containing "microneedles," which painlessly penetrate the top layer of the skin when applied. Those needles then harmlessly dissolve, releasing their contents directly into the bloodstream.

The patch has already been tested on 10 volunteers, in placebo form. It will next be tested to see if it can deliver the correct dosage of antibiotics.

"We hope to show that this unique antibiotic patch prevents resistance development," says Donnelly. "If we are successful, this approach will significantly extend the lifespan of existing antibiotics, allowing time for development of the next generation of antibiotics. In doing so, this work has the potential to save many lives."