NEW YORK — If De-chu Tang has his way, the trauma of childhood vaccinations may become a quaint historical relic.
Tang has developed a way to deliver vaccines through bare skin, in a process as simple and painless as applying sunscreen or pimple cream.
"Mothers could vaccinate their children at home," said Tang. "Anybody could do it."
The procedure is still a long way from the world's medicine cabinets. But it has produced promising results in mouse experiments, Tang reports in a recent issue of the British journal Nature.
The key to vaccination, Tang said, is to stimulate a person's immune system against a disease-causing agent without actually giving them the disease. Vaccinations do that by injecting dead or incapacitated viruses or bacteria directly into the muscles. The body identifies the injected material as foreign and develops antibodies that can later fight off a real attack.
With his new method, Tang said, the same immune response can be generated by dabbing genetically engineered viruses onto the skin. The viruses carry genes for proteins typical of disease-causing agents, such as influenza or even cancer. When they infect the skin cells, the cells begin pumping out the proteins, and the body mounts an immune response.
"All we have to do is target the first layer of viable cells in the outer layer of skin," Tang said.
So far he has tested the procedure twice with mouse experiments at his University of Alabama at Birmingham laboratory. In one experiment, it was effective in 23 of 24 mice, and in the other, it worked six out of 14 times.
The next step, Tang said, is to apply for permission to test the process on humans.