Silicon micro-needle patch takes cost, and sting, out of vaccinations

September 09, 2014

A skin patch with an array of tiny silicon micro-needles could substantially reduce the cost, and practically eliminate the pain, of malaria and other vaccinations. The research, led by immunologist Dr Anne Moore at University College Cork (UCC) in Ireland, has also led to the development of tiny, pain-free dissolvable needles, reports the Irish Times. Moore has planned a trip to Silicon Valley to court venture capitalists and technology companies to commercialize the research.

 Anne Moore, UCC
Dr Anne Moore shows microneedle patches.
Photo courtesy Tomás Tyner, UCC.

The micro-needle-based patch overcomes one of the main problems with this type of vaccine: overcoming pre-existing immunity to the vaccine, according to a press release posted by UCC. The scientists combined two vaccine technologies to determine if immunity could be further enhanced, and the research suggests that using a micro-needle patch would overcome the need to make and use multiple different vaccine types. Moreover, a high level of protection was achieved using half the amount of vaccine that is typically used. This could have significant consequences on the cost and logistics of vaccination, note researchers.

The experimental vaccine was based on a live adenovirus, which is similar to those that can cause a common cold, but is engineered to be safer and to deliver a protein from the malaria-causing parasite to the immune system.

Adenoviruses are among the most potent vaccine platforms tested to date in humans and are being developed to prevent or treat diseases such as malaria, HIV, influenza and Ebola. However, the body typically develops a strong immune response to the adenovirus itself over time, preventing its repeated use as a vaccine. The micro-needle patch, according to Moore, did not "induce this strong anti-adenovirus immunity, even though very potent immunity to the malaria antigen is generated." The researchers demonstrated that using the micro-needle patch in primary immunization permits repeated use of the same vaccine while continuing to provide protection from malaria.

The new dissolvable microneedles, in which the vaccine is embedded, reportedly further advance the technology by dispensing with the need for refrigerated storage of the vaccine in remote areas where malaria is endemic. The vaccines can just be left on a shelf, Moore told the Irish Times. "Delivering the vaccine would be half the price as a result."

The work was carried out by researchers in the School of Pharmacy, Dept. of Pharmacology, and the Tyndall National Institute, UCC, in collaboration with colleagues at the Jenner Institute, University of Oxford. It was published by Nature Publication Group in Scientific Reports and funded by Enterprise Ireland and Science Foundation Ireland.

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