Flu drug patch with microneedles in the works
WASHINGTON — One day your annual flu shot could come in the mail.
At least that’s the hope of researchers developing a new method of vaccine delivery that people could even use at home: a patch with microneedles. Microneedles? That’s right, tiny needles so small you don’t feel them. Attached to a patch like a BandAid, the little needles barely penetrate the skin before they dissolve and release their vaccine.
Researchers led by Mark Prausnitz of Georgia Institute of Technology reported their research on microneedles in Sunday’s edition of Nature Medicine.
The business side of the patch feels like fine sandpaper, he said. In tests of microneedles without vaccine, people rated the discomfort at onetenth to one-twentieth that of getting a standard injection, he said. Nearly everyone said it was painless.
Attempts to develop patches with the flu vaccine absorbed through the skin have not been successful. In the Georgia Tech work, the vaccine is injected. But the needles are so small that they don’t hurt, and it doesn’t take any special training to use the patch.
So two problems are solved right away — fear of needles and disposal of hypodermic needles.
“The goal has been a means to administer the vaccine that is patient friendly,” Mark R. Prausnitz of Georgia Tech said.
That means “not only not hurting or looking scary, but that patients could self-administer,” he said, and people would be more likely to get the flu vaccine.
The patch, which has been tested on mice, was developed in collaboration with researchers at Emory University, Prausnitz said. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health. The researchers are now seeking funds to begin tests in people and, if all goes well, the patch could be in use in five years, he said.