Hate needles? Researchers are looking for a way to bring pain-free flu vaccines to the public, and the results look promising. The new technology uses microneedles less than 1 millimeter long to deliver the vaccine. The needles, arranged on a Band-Aid-esque patch, dissolve into the patient's skin--and could allow persons without medical training to painlessly administer vaccines. And the researchers involved are lauding the technology as a vaccine "game changer."
In the study that was published in July 18's Nature Medicine, the scientists injected mice with the vaccine with traditional hypodermic needles or the microneedle technology, and compared them with a control group, which had received microneedle treatment without a vaccine. When exposed a month after vaccination, some mice in the control group died, while those vaccinated with either method thrived. Three months later, others in the groups were exposed to the flu, and the microneedle-treated mice did better than the hypodermic variety.
In addition to providing better protection, the patch could offer ease of use. "We envision people getting the patch in the mail or at a pharmacy and then self administering it at home," says Sean Sullivan, the study's lead author from Georgia Tech, in a statement. "Because the microneedles on the patch dissolve away into the skin, there would be no dangerous sharp needles left over."
But the new technology still has hurdles to cross, including variances in human skin unmatched in mice. "It's not uncommon for vaccines or vaccine delivery systems to look very promising in experimental animals, then fail in humans," explains Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center and chief of infectious diseases at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia to US News & World Report. "There is every reason to believe this kind of technology could be applicable to children and adults."