3D printed vaccine coated patches could soon replace a syringe near you

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Hate needles, but still want to get the shot? Researchers at Stanford University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill are supporting you. They have developed a new 3D printed patch that can get you vaccinated without any vaccine.

Design and scanning electron microscope (ESEM) images of microneedles. (E) is a fluorescence image of the patch in (D). Image credits Cassie Caudill et al., (2021), PNAS.

The patch works even better than a traditional vaccine, explain its designers, because it delivers the compound directly into the skin, which is full of immune cells that respond to it. The resulting immune response is about 10 times greater than that produced by injection through a needle into muscle tissue. However, these results, for now, should be taken with a pinch of salt; they were obtained from a study conducted on animals and not on humans.

Performance fix

“By developing this technology, we hope to lay the groundwork for even faster global vaccine development, at lower doses, without pain or anxiety,” said lead study author and 3D printing entrepreneur Joseph. Mr. DeSimone, Professor of Translational Medicine and Chemical Engineering at Stanford University and Professor Emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

To be fair, it’s not the patch itself that does the job, but rows of micro-needles coated with vaccine on its underside. These are lined up and, individually, they are barely long enough to reach the skin, where they dissolve, releasing the vaccine.

One of the main selling points of this technology, in the eyes of the authors, is ease of use and transportability. For patients, it is likely that the indolence of this method compared to other methods of administration will be its most attractive feature, as is the fact that they can administer the patches themselves without any risk.

Application of this patch led to a significant antibody response in laboratory animals. According to the team, this response was 50 times greater than what would be produced by direct injection under the skin. This increased response could result in dose savings – in essence, immunizing a larger crowd of people with the same amount of vaccine – because each patch uses a lower dose to produce the same response as given by syringe.

The concept of microneedles has interested the scientific community for some time now, but they never really caught on due to the difficulties of customizing them for different vaccines. Although 3D printing has allowed authors to overcome the limitations of the past, it is generally difficult to adapt microneedles to different types of vaccines:

“These issues, coupled with manufacturing challenges, have arguably held back the field of micro-needles for vaccine delivery,” said lead author of the study Shaomin Tian, ​​a researcher in the Department of Microbiology and of Immunology from the UNC Faculty of Medicine. “Our approach allows us to 3D print microneedles directly, giving us a lot of design latitude to make the best microneedles from a performance and cost perspective. “

Instead of relying on the traditional approach of creating a mold and then pouring the micro-needles, the team prints each one individually. This was done at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill using a CLIP 3D printer prototype invented by DeSimone and produced by CARBON, a Silicon Valley company he co-founded.

While rapid vaccine development remains a key aspect of combating a pandemic, our experiences over the past year have shown that logistical factors remain an important element limiting our ability to respond. This process seems simple – going to the hospital, having someone pick up a vaccine from a freezer, pull it into a syringe, and administer the vaccine – but it still poses many obstacles from a health perspective. mass vaccination.

For starters, such an approach simply cannot work in areas that lack cold rooms or where there are not enough trained professionals to perform vaccinations. Getting vaccinated this way also involves going to a hospital or clinic, which not everyone can or wants to do.

These patches, the team explains, can be delivered anywhere in the world without any special storage or transport requirements. They can be applied easily and safely at home without the presence of trained people. That, in itself, could also help increase vaccination rates, the team adds.

“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,” DeSimone said. “Fortunately, we have biotech and healthcare workers pushing the limits for all of us. “

The article “Transdermal vaccination via 3D printed micro-needles induces powerful humoral and cellular immunity” was published in the review PNAS.


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