Dissolvable patches can replace need for needles

28 Jul 2015

A study into flu treatment suggests we could do away with needles, using a dissolvable patch to administer vaccines instead.

There are plenty of people out there with a fear of needles, reportedly one in five people suffer from what’s called trypanophobia.

To be honest, even the rest of us who aren’t afraid of them would still rather a situation that didn’t involve a needle being shoved into our arms.

So the research by Osaka University academics in Japan that points to a future of no needles, for some cases, should be welcomed by many.

Trivial, time -consuming obstacles

The vast majority of vaccines are administered by injection, meaning children cry, adults faint and staff need to put acute technical skills into action. This all takes time and money, especially when considering how these vaccinations must be stored.

The dissolving patch researched by Prof Shinsaku Nakagawa and his team, though, could change all of that.

Previous ‘microneedle patches’ that have been tested were not too safe, with the materials therein subsequently compromising the patient’s bloodstream when it dissolved.

For example, microneedles made from silicon or metal run the risk of breaking off in the skin, leaving tiny fragments behind.

No needles: A novel approach

But Nakagawa used water to make the patch, and hyaluronic acid to create the needles – hyaluronic acid is something that humans naturally produce to cushion their joints.

When the patch is applied like a plaster, the needles pierce the top layer of skin without causing pain and dissolve into the body, taking the vaccine with them.

“Because the new patch is so easy to use, we believe it will be particularly effective in supporting vaccination in developing countries,” said Professor Nakagawa, professor of biotechnology and therapeutics at Osaka University.

By testing the patches with flu vaccines, the results seemed positive, with results showing that patients had at least as much a reaction as those treated traditionally — the paper doesn’t detail who, of those treated, subsequently got the flu.

Let’s get excited

“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,” said Nakagawa, one of the authors of the study published in Biomaterials.

“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.”

Main image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic