21-Jul-10 1:00 PM  CST

New Painless Flu Patch Could Change How People Receive Vaccines

In addition to providing a painless way to deliver the influenza vaccine, a new patch consisting of tiny, microscopic needles that dissolve into the skin developed by researchers at Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology could allow patients to administer the vaccine on their own.

The patch is made of a freeze-dried form of the vaccine mixed with a polymer material and arranged into an array of 100 microscopic needles along a backing the size of an adult fingertip. The needles are so small, they can’t be felt, and they quickly dissolve as they get absorbed into the skin. The backing of the patch is also water-soluble and can be discarded in ordinary waste bins after use. Researchers at Georgia Tech and Emory ultimately hope that the patch can adapted for use with several common immunizations that patients can pick up or have mailed from a pharmacy and then self-administer at home.

“We envision people getting the patch in the mail or at a pharmacy and then self administering it at home,” Sullivan said in a news release from Emory and Georgia Tech. “Because the microneedles on the patch dissolve away into the skin, there would be no dangerous sharp needles left over.”

The scientists compared the patch with administering the vaccine through a syringe in different groups of mice. According to the study, both methods proved equally effective in protecting one group of mice from infection from the seasonal flu virus 30 days later. However, after a second group of mice was infected three months after vaccination, scientists discovered the mice vaccinated with the patch were able to clear the virus more effectively from their lungs than the ones vaccinated via syringe. Richard Compans, a professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory, believes that the mirconeedle patch was more effective because the vaccine is absorbed through the skin instead of through the muscle as it would be from a syringe.

“The skin is a particularly attractive site for immunization because it contains an abundance of the types of calls that are important in generating immune responses to vaccines,” Compans said.
The patch still requires further clinical study. According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, it could be available in only five years. Researchers hope that the patch’s ease and efficiency of delivery will also help people in poorer nations, where poorer medical conditions can prompt the re-use of syringes and increase the risk of contracting diseases like HIV and hepatitis. They also see it simplifying vaccination programs in schools and assisted living facilities.

The study on the patch was published in the July 18 issue of Nature Medicine online.
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