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Say Goodbye To Needles, and Hello to Painless Vaccine Bio-Patches

by Rafi Schwartz

July 17, 2015
image via (cc) flickr user stevendepolo

As a small child, every time I visited the doctor, I became “that kid.” The one physicians dreaded, nurses hated, and anyone within earshot probably thought was being painfully vivisected without any anesthetic behind closed doors. Would that my shrieks and screams were caused by such pain, but unfortunately their inspiration was something far more mundane: From age four until sometime during my middle school years, I was totally, utterly, profoundly terrified of getting shots. Never mind that the shots themselves were, ultimately, relatively painless. Never mind that they were, in many cases, literally saving my life from any number of infectious diseases. Had I been given the choice between getting stuck with needles and having my fingers broken by an angry gorilla, well, I would have needed to really think it over, at the very least. 

Now, as it turns out, my fear of injections may soon become a thing of the past, as may the very needles that scared me so much in the first place. That’s because a team of Japanese researchers have come up with an alternative way to get vaccines into your body, without having to shove a pointed metal cylinder through your skin. 

image via (cc) flickr user blakespot

In a paper published this month in Biomaterials, scientists from Osaka University describe their successful experimentation with a new inoculation method which utilizes tiny, biodegradable microneedles made of hyaluronic acid, a naturally occurring substance found in your body’s joints. Those microneedles sit on a coin-sized patch which a patient simply affixes to their arm, allowing the tips of the needles to pass through just the very top dermal layers. As medicine flows through the patch and into you, the needles themselves begin to disintegrate from the moisture in your skin. The patch, dubbed “MicroHyala,” is easy to apply, and requires no extensive medical training, which makes it perfect for use by aid workers in remote, or developing locales in which trained professional physicians may be scarce.  

While the paper focused specifically on experimentation with vaccinations against the flu, study author Shinsaku Nakagawa is hopeful that the MicroHyala could be put to much wider use. Speaking with Elsevier, he says: 

We were excited to see that our new microneedle patch is just as effective as the needle-delivered flu vaccines, and in some cases even more effective. We have shown that the patch is safe and that it works well. Since it is also painless and very easy for non-trained people to use, we think it could bring about a major change in the way we administer vaccines globally

Elsevier points out that while this isn’t the first foray into microneedle vaccination attempts, those other microneedles were made from metal or plastic, and risked breaking off or getting stuck in the skin. Conversely, it is the MicroHyala’s biodegradability which sets it apart as a surprisingly viable alternative to standard injections. 

So while I may still cringe (but only just a little) each time I go in for a booster shot, or annual flu vaccine, my days of worrying about pieces of metal piercing my skin could soon, thankfully, be coming to an end. 

[via gizmodo]

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Say Goodbye To Needles, and Hello to Painless Vaccine Bio-Patches