We all have that “friend” who avoids getting flu shots out of fear of injections, right? Well, researchers from Georgia Institute of Technology and the Emory University had you — we mean, “your friend” — in mind while designing this new way to deliver vaccinations. Instead of the usual injection, the researchers came up with a sticker patch that you can apply on yourself.
The patch comes with a hundred tiny hair-like microneedles located on its adhesive side. “If you zoom in under the microscope what you’ll see are microscopically small needles,” lead researcher Mark Prausnitz told the BBC. “They puncture painlessly into the skin.” Unlike regular injections that go all the way through the muscle, the microneedles puncture and dissolve into the upper layer of the skin, delivering the vaccine in about 20 minutes.
A small preliminary clinical trial was recently published in The Lancet that involving 100 volunteers and showed that applying the patch was relatively painless compared to a regular flu shot. A few people got some mild side-effects, like redness and irritation on the skin where the patch was applied. These disappeared after a couple of days. Initial findings also revealed that the patch vaccines successfully immunized the users against the flu.
The FDA will require larger human studies before it definitively determines that the vaccine patch is safe and effective, but such a technology is truly revolutionary. As soon as this patch system gets approval for widespread use in the next couple of years, getting flu shots or other vaccines would be as easy as putting a Band-Aid. “We could envisage vaccination at home, in the workplace or even via mail distribution,” said Emory’s Nadine Rouphael, speaking to the BBC.
Plus, you can do it yourself. “With the microneedle patch, you could pick it up at the store and take it home, put it on your skin for a few minutes, peel it off and dispose of it safely, because the microneedles have dissolved away,” Prausnitz said in a press release.
This also opens up a better transport and delivery system for vaccines to reach remote areas. “The patches can also be stored outside the refrigerator, so you could even mail them to people,” Prausnitz added in the press release. He’s already working with a company that wants to license this technology.
As John Edmunds from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who wasn’t involved in the study, told the BBC, “This study is undoubtedly an important step towards a better way to deliver future vaccines.”