Dissolvable Microarray Patch – A Pain-free Alternative to Flu Injection

Statistics say that every year thousands die in the U.S. due to flu and its complications. A yearly flu vaccine is the most effective method to protect oneself against the disease. However, not everyone gets vaccinated. In the year 2015-2016, approximately only 42% of adults and 59% of children received their flu vaccine. Scientists have been working on developing different painless technologies like nasal sprays to help increase vaccination rates.

A research funded by the NIBIB (National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering) and the NIAID (National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases), and conducted at the Emory University School of Medicine and the Georgia Institute of Technology has shown that an influenza vaccine can be administered safely via an experimental patch of dissolving microarrays (or microneedles) to robust immune responses. The results of the study were published on June 27, 2017 in the Lancet.

The team designed a dime-sized patch of 100 solid, water-soluble microarrays containing flu vaccine. These needles which are less than 1 millimeter long, dissolve within the skin in a few minutes of penetrating it.

The team grouped 100 adult participants into four random groups. A health care provider administered a flu vaccine patch to the first group; a participant applied a flu vaccine patch to the second; a health care provider gave a flu injection to the third; and a health care provider applied a placebo patch to the fourth.

The blood sample analysis for immune response to flu vaccine showed that similar immune responses were exhibited by those who received a vaccine injection or patch. Robust immune responses were shown even by those participants who applied the patch themselves, suggesting that participants were able to correctly self-administer the patch.

Some participants reported faint redness and mild itching (for 2 or 3 days) on the skin where the patch was applied. But overall, the microarray patch flu vaccine did not produce any serious side effect, and was safe. Over 70% of the participants stated that they would prefer the microarray patch over the nasal spray flu vaccine or flu injection.

Dr. Roderic I. Pettigrew, Director NIBIB says “This bandage-strip sized patch of painless and dissolvable needles can transform how we get vaccinated. A particularly attractive feature is that this vaccination patch could be delivered in the mail and self-administered. In addition, this technology holds promise for delivering other vaccines in the future.”

Further, since the sharp component of the microarray patches are designed to dissolve upon penetration, the risk of improper needle reuse and needle stick injuries are completely eliminated. This also means that the used patches were non-sharps waste which could be safely discarded. And, the patch need not be refrigerated like the liquid flu injection. The vaccines stay potent in the patches for at least a year, this way.
The microarray vaccine technology could also offer manufacturing and economic advantages. Though its production cost is higher than that of prefilled syringes, its vaccination cost could be low due to the self-administration feature.

Other advantages are the efficient and minimal packaging which would reduce the requirement of storage and transportation space; reduced injection training needs, and an increased proceed in campaign settings or supervised clinics, which are commonly found in developing countries. Moreover, in this delivery technology, less antigen can generate effective results. This could facilitate the production of increased number of doses from a given amount of vaccine.

Studies on animals show that a stronger immune response to the flu vaccine can be generated by delivering it through a microarray patch than through a shot. However, to evaluate the approach in humans, larger clinical studies are needed. Mark Prausnitz, one of the research leads, has cofounded Micron Biomedical, a company that seeks to promote the microarray patch technology. He says “We now need to follow this study with a phase II clinical trial involving more people, and we hope that will happen soon.”

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