Chemical and physical methods of enhancing the percutaneous absorption of antimicrobial agents

  • Tina Amini

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    Contrary to previously held beliefs, it is now known that bacteria exist not only on the surface of the skin but they are also distributed at varying depths beneath the skin surface. Hence, in order to sterilise the skin, antimicrobial agents are required to penetrate across the skin and eliminate the bacteria residing at all depths. Chlorhexidine is an antimicrobial agent with the widest use for skin sterilisation. However, due to its poor permeation rate across the skin, sterilisation of the skin cannot be achieved and, therefore, the remaining bacteria can act as a source of infection during an operation or insertion of
    catheters. The underlying theme of this study is to enhance the permeation of this
    antimicrobial agent in the skin by employing chemical (enhancers and supersaturated systems) or physical (iontophoresis) techniques. The hydrochloride salt of chlorhexidine
    (CHX), a poorly soluble salt, was used throughout this study. The effect of ionisation on in vitro permeation rate across the excised human epidennis
    was investigated using Franz-type diffusion cells. Saturated solutions of CHX were used as donor and the variable studied was vehicle pH. Permeation rate was increased with increasing vehicle pH. The pH effect was not related to the level of ionisation of the drug. The effect of donor vehicle was also studied using saturated solutions of CHX in 10%
    and 20% ethanol as the donor solutions. Permeation of CHX was enhanced by increasing the concentration of ethanol which could be due to the higher concentration of CHX in the donor phase and the effect of ethanol itself on the membrane. The interplay between drug diffusion and enhancer pretreatment of the epidennis was studied. Pretreatment of the membrane with 10% Azone/PG demonstrated the highest diffusion rate followed by 10% olcic acid/PG pretreatment compared to other
    pretreatment regimens (ethanol, dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO), propylene glycol (PG),
    sodium dodecyl sulphate (SDS) and dodecyl trimethyl ammonium bromide (DT AB). Differential Scanning Calorimetry (DSC) was also employed to study the mode of action of these enhancers.
    The potential of supersaturated solutions in enhancing percutaneous absorption of CHX was investigated. Various anti-nucleating polymers were screened in order to establish the most effective agent. Polyvinylpyrrolidone (PVP, K30) was found to be a better candidate than its lower molecular weight counterpart (K25) and hydroxypropyl methyleellulose (HPMC). The permeation studies showed an increase in diffusion rate by increasing the degree of saturation. Iontophoresis is a physical means of transdemal drug delivery enhancement that causes
    an increased penetration of molecules into or through the skin by the application of an electric field. This technique was employed in conjunction with chemical enhancers to assess the effect on CHX permeation across the human epidermis. An improved transport
    of CHX, which was pH dependant was observed upon application of the current.
    Combined use of iontophoresis and chemical enhancers further increased the CHX transport indicating a synergistic effect. Pretreatment of the membrane with 10% Azone/PG demonstrated the greatest effect.
    Date of AwardApr 2001
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorWilliam J. Irwin (Supervisor)


    • Chlorhexidine dihydrochloride
    • chemical enhancers
    • differential scanning calorimetry
    • supersaturation
    • iontopheresis

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