Vaccines Could Be Delivered by Painless Tattoo: The End of Syringes

First Posted: Jan 29, 2013 03:41 PM EST

Vaccines could be delivered in a new way, according to researchers. Scientists have developed patches covered in microscopic needles that could tattoo vaccines into the skin to boost a patient's natural defenses against disease.

Although vaccines in and of themselves are nothing new, DNA vaccines are. This new type delivers genes from contagions directly into patients. The cells of the vaccinated people then churn out molecules from those potential intruders and help immune systems recognize threats. These differ from regular vaccines since instead of having scientists generate and purify proteins from germs for use in vaccines, the human body does the manufacturing work itself.

Thus far, though, DNA vaccines haven't met with much success. Thus far, there has been no good method to deliver enough of the vaccine in a shot. Now, researchers at MIT have developed a way that might possibly work.

The scientists used an array of microscopic plastic needles only 250 microns wide and 650 microns high. They then coated these tiny needles with biodegradable films that contained the vaccine, as well as a variety of other molecules that stimulate the immune systems and help cells absorb DNA. They applied these needles to patches, which were then pressed onto the skin. The patches instantly embedded the coatings into the body, much like a tattoo application.

Needless to say, these patches would eliminate the need to inject vaccines by syringe. All you need to do is apply the patch for a few minutes and take it off. The patch would leave behind the thin polymer films imbedded in the skin.

Currently, researchers have only tested this new delivery system with mice and macaque skin samples. However, they soon plan to perform further tests in non-human primates before undertaking possible tests in humans. The delivery system could be used with vaccines for many different diseases.

The scientists published their findings online in the journal Nature Materials.

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