Dissolving "microneedle" patch could lead to universal vaccinationsS

Vaccinating all of humanity is a noble, essential goal. It's also impossible, because there simply aren't enough trained professionals in the world to do it. Now a tiny, dissolving patch solves that problem, giving people the ability to vaccinate themselves.

The patches contain hundreds of microscopic needles, each barely any bigger than a 10,000th of an inch. (You can see an array of 36 such needles up top.) The needles are each tipped with vaccines, and when the patch is applied to the skin they dissolve painlessly to provide long-lasting protection. That's a big improvement on hypodermic needles, the current mode of vaccine delivery, because those needles are nothing but trouble once they've been used. Disposing of hypodermics so that they don't accidentally hurt someone or end up getting reused is a public health nightmare, and the patch eliminates those concerns completely.

But the benefits hardly stop there. The patch stores the vaccine in a dry format that is much easier to preserve and transport than liquid vaccines. Early tests of the patch on mice reveal it works just as well, if not considerably better, than its hypodermic counterparts. This is probably because the needles affect a wide swath of skin cells, which are some of the best cells for provoking immune responses.

Best of all, as Professor Mark Prausnitz explains, anyone can use the patch:

"The dissolving microneedle patch could open up many new doors for immunization programs by eliminating the need for trained personnel to carry out the vaccination. This approach could make a significant impact because it could enable self-administration as well as simplify vaccination programs in schools and assisted living facilities."

The patch is the work of researchers at Emory and Georgia Tech. They say that the near-term goal is to distribute the patches through the mail or make them available at pharmacies, allowing people to easily access the vaccines. Of course, the parts of the world that most need those vaccines don't often have pharmacies or reliable mail services, but the patch is a huge step towards offering affordable, working vaccines for everyone.

[Nature Medicine]