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Future Tense: Microneedle Skin Patch

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media, December 13, 2010
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Developers:

Researchers at Emory University and Georgia Institute of Technology, including senior coauthors Richard Compans, PhD, Emory professor of microbiology and immunology, and Mark Prausnitz, PhD, professor at the Georgia Tech school of chemical and biomolecular engineering

How it works:

Microneedle skin patches contain an array of stainless steel microneedles coated with inactivated influenza virus. The patches are pressed into the skin and, after a few minutes, the vaccine coating dissolves off within the skin. "Our findings show that microneedle patches are just as effective at protecting against influenza as conventional hypodermic immunizations," says Compans. "Vaccine delivery into the skin is desirable because of the skin's rich immune network."

Potential improvement:

Because they are easy to use and distribute, microneedle patches could improve patient access to immunizations in underserved areas or developing countries. Unlike conventional hypodermic injections, microneedles are prepared in a patch for simple administration, possibly by patients themselves, and applied painlessly to the skin without specialized training, "These micron-scale needles can be mass produced using low-cost methods for distribution to doctors' office, pharmacies and, possibly, people's homes," says Prausnitz. Other advantages include more convenient storage, easier transportation, and lower dosage requirements.

What's next:

The Georgia Tech team has tested the ability of the needles to deliver proteins, vaccines, nanoparticles, and other small and large molecules through the skin. The project team will conduct further animal testing before initiating studies in humans. Also, more studies are needed to determine the minimum vaccine dose needed for full protection.

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