One problem with orally-administered painkillers is that even though you may just have pain in a particular area, the medication affects your whole body. This both increases the chance of side effects, and limits the effect of the medication on that one area. Now, however, scientists at Britain's University of Warwick have developed a solution – they've created the world's first ibuprofen skin patch.

Made from a flexible adhesive polymer that was custom-designed by the Bostik company, the patch can incorporate up to 30 percent ibuprofen by weight. When applied externally to a patient's body, the medication gradually leaches from the polymer and through the skin at a controlled rate – it can remain active for up to 12 hours. The concentrated ibuprofen goes straight to work at the desired location, instead of first traveling throughout the patient's bloodstream.

While ibuprofen-containing topical gels do already exist, they release the painkiller at a considerably less consistent rate, and are messier to apply. Additionally, they don't contain as much of it – the 30 percent figure is 5 to 10 times higher than what is possible with most other medication-containing patches and gels.

And even though the patch does reportedly stay attached the skin quite well, it can be peeled off with no adhesive residue and little discomfort.

University of Warwick research chemist Prof. David Haddleton (left) and Medherant CEO Nigel Davis, with a sheet of the patch material

According to the university, the polymer could also be used to create transdermal patches that dispense other types of medication – some of which can't be dissolved into conventional polymers, so aren't currently available in patch-form.

The ibuprofen patch is being commercialized through U Warwick spin-off company Medherant, and is expected to hit the market within about two years.

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