Scientists at the Stanford University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill have created a 3D-printed vaccine patch full of microneedles that provides greater protection than a typical vaccine shot delivered through a needle. The idea is to apply the 3D-printed vaccine patch directly to the skin – which is full of immune cells that vaccines target.
According to a study conducted on animals, the resulting immune response from the vaccine patch was 10 times greater than vaccine delivered into an arm muscle with a needle jab. This study was published by the team of scientists in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Considered a breakthrough are the 3D-printed microneedles lined up on a polymer patch and barely long enough to reach the skin to deliver vaccine.
“In developing this technology, we hope to set the foundation for even more rapid global development of vaccines, at lower doses, in a pain- and anxiety-free manner.”– Joseph M. DeSimone, Lead study author, Entrepreneur and Founder of Carbon, and Professor of translational medicine and chemical engineering at Stanford University and professor emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill.
The ease and effectiveness of a vaccine patch sets the course for a new way to deliver vaccines that’s painless, less invasive than a shot, does not require cold storage and can be self-administered.
Study results show the vaccine patch generated a significant T-cell and antigen-specific antibody response that was 50 times greater than a subcutaneous injection delivered under the skin.
That heightened immune response could lead to dose sparing, with a microneedle vaccine patch using a smaller dose to generate a similar immune response as a vaccine delivered with a needle and syringe.
While microneedle patches have been studied for decades, the work by Carolina and Stanford overcomes some past challenges: through 3D printing, the microneedles can be easily customized to develop various vaccine patches for flu, measles, hepatitis or COVID-19 vaccines.
Advantages of the 3D-Printed Vaccine Patch
- The 3D-printed vaccine path eliminates the need to visit a clinic or hospital to take the vaccine jab. The COVID-19 pandemic has already showed the importance of timely vaccination.
- The traditional vaccination process is a long-drawn affair that is riddled with many challenges like cold storage, transportation, requirement of handling equipments, trained professionals, etc. This can be eliminated.
- 3D-printed vaccine patches, which incorporate vaccine-coated microneedles that dissolve into the skin, could be shipped anywhere in the world without special handling and people can apply the patch themselves.
- Moreover, the ease of using a 3D-printed vaccine patch may lead to higher vaccination rates.
3D Printing the Microneedles
Most microneedles are fabricated with master templates to make moulds. However, the moulding of microneedles is not very versatile, and drawbacks include reduced needle sharpness during replication. This is the conventional method and its generally a challenge to adapt microneedles to different vaccine types.
“These issues, coupled with manufacturing challenges, have arguably held back the field of microneedles for vaccine delivery. Our approach allows us to directly 3D print the microneedles which gives us lots of design latitude for making the best microneedles from a performance and cost point-of-view.”– Shaomin Tian, Lead study author and Researcher in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the UNC School of Medicine
The microneedles were produced at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill using a CLIP prototype 3D printer that DeSimone invented and is produced by CARBON, a Silicon-Valley company he co-founded.
The team of microbiologists and chemical engineers are continuing to innovate by formulating RNA vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines, into microneedle patches for future testing.
According to DeSimone, “One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic is that innovation in science and technology can make or break a global response. Thankfully we have biotech and health care workers pushing the envelope for us all.”
Additional study authors include Cassie Caudill, Jillian L. Perry, Kimon lliadis, Addis T. Tessema and Beverly S. Mecham of UNC-Chapel Hill and Brian J. Lee of Stanford.
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