No more tears at the doctors, no more promises “It’s only a little prick” or “This won’t hurt”. The feared annual flu jab is about to be replaced by microneedles, similar to a nicotine patch. No needle, no pin-prick, no bleeding…and, say scientists, the results are far more effective.
The results of the project were published in the latest edition of Nature magazine: a research team led by Dr. Mark Prausnitz of the Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University, Atlanta, USA and supported by the National Institutes of Health, have developed a painless device which is placed on the skin and which delivers the injection.
The benefits are many: there is no longer the need to dispose of hypodermic needles, and the process is friendlier to those with a fear of injections, apart from being ten to twenty times more comfortable, according to tests carried out on groups of patients. A further advantage is that the injection is as easy to administer as it is to receive in the mailbox and rather than patients going to vaccination centers, they could receive the patches at home, apply them and go about their daily lives.
The micro-needles are around three-hundredths of an inch long (0.65mm.) and there are around one hundred on a typical patch, which can deliver a dose of vaccine in between five to fifteen minutes. The vaccine penetrates and is picked up by receptors beneath the skin called antigen-presenting cells, after which the patch can simply be peeled off and thrown away as the micro-needles dissolve. The needles are made of a biocompatible polymer which encapsulates inactivated influenza virus vaccine.
The patch has been successfully tested on mice and is now awaiting funding for eventual human trials which might see it adopted within the next five years. The team claims that other forms of vaccines could be delivered using the same method in future and states that this form of vaccination “generated robust antibody and cellular immune responses in mice that provided complete protection against lethal challenge”.
The paper, “Dissolving polymer microneedle patches for influenza vaccination”, was authored by Sean P. Sullivan, Dimitrios G. Koutsonanos, Miria del Pilar Martin, Jeong Woo Lee, Vladimir Zarnitsyn, Seong-o Choi, Niren Murthy, Richard W. Compans, Ioanna Skountzou and Mark R. Prausnitz and was published in Sunday’s edition of Nature magazine.
As far as the scientific and medical benefits are concerned, the authors claim that the new method would provide “improved immunogenicity without the dangers posed by hypodermic needles”.