Each year, millions of people in developing countries are killed by vaccine-preventable diseases. Twenty million people around the world are affected annually by measles alone. It’s clear that the developing world needs better access to vaccination against diseases such as measles, polio, and yellow fever. Vaccines are usually administered through injection, meaning a trained professional is required to mix and administer the vaccine. In addition, vaccines require a sterile environment and constant refrigeration to remain viable.
All of these requirements are very difficult and costly to meet in developing countries, especially in remote areas. However, Dr. Mark Prausnitz and other researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology, in collaboration with the Center for Disease Control (CDC), are developing a microneedle patch that can quickly and easily administer vaccines that save lives.
Fifteen Minute Vaccination
The patch is less than a millimeter long and contains up to 100 microneedles that can be applied to the skin at once to vaccinate patients against a disease. To apply it, it is simply placed on an individual’s skin like a sticker. The tiny needles on the patch puncture the patient’s skin and slowly dissolve. After 15 minutes, the patch is removed and thrown away, and the patient is fully vaccinated against the disease.
The patch uses a mixture of sugar and vaccine, and a polymer to keep the needles stable. No refrigeration is required to keep the vaccine viable, meaning it can be more easily transported to and stored in remote areas. It also requires no training to apply, takes up less space than traditional vaccines, and causes no pain to the patient. It is similar in cost to traditional vaccines, with a dose of measles or rubella vaccine via microneedle patch costing approximately $1.30.
Animal tests carried out with the microneedle patch for measles and rubella vaccines show that the patches produce a strong immune response with no adverse reactions to health. Georgia Tech and the CDC are working on developing human trials and are hoping to start the trials in 2017. The technology has the potential to extend beyond measles; researchers have tested the patch with numerous different vaccines at a range of different temperatures.
An Enormous Opportunity
Dr. Prausnitz and his team are working with the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to develop a flu vaccine for the microneedle patch, and in early 2015, they received a $2.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a microneedle patch for the polio vaccine. This new technology has the potential to better control vaccine-preventable illnesses, save millions of lives, and perhaps eradicate some of the most killer diseases in the developing world.
Dr. Prausnitz and the CDC believe that the microneedle patch is an enormous opportunity to save lives in a more efficient and more cost-effective manner. The patch even has the potential to remove the healthcare professional completely from the equation and allow people to self-administer vaccines.
In remote and insecure areas around the world where it is difficult to gain access, set up clinics, and send in doctors and nurses, this is a very valuable idea. Dr. Prausnitz and his team of researchers expect that their new technology will be ready for more wide-scale use in about five years.