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Rodent of the Week: Vaccination via skin patch looks promising

September 10, 2010

The recent H1N1 flu pandemic reminded everyone in public health that our methods for quickly and efficiently vaccinating large numbers of people really stink. Eggs are required to grow vaccine in a sensitive and time-consuming process, manufacturers have to assemble the vaccine in syringes and then healthcare professionals have to administer the painful shots to people who often wait in excruciatingly long lines to receive it (including children who cry afterward for a very long time).

A much better way of delivering flu and other types of vaccines is on the horizon. A consortium of researchers from the United States and Europe are reporting progress in a self-administered vaccine skin patch.

In a study released this week, the researchers found that a patch containing tiny microneedles effectively vaccinated mice from the H5N1 flu virus. In fact, the mice developed protective immunity to the virus at levels equal to or beyond what they receive from an intramuscular shot. Moreover, the study showed that human skin cells responded to flulike particles delivered in the patch. The research appears in the journal Clinical and Vaccine Immunology.

The device contains about 100 tiny, dissolvable needles embedded in an adhesive patch. Using such a device would be quick, easy, painless and could be self administered. More research is needed to see how this method translates to humans and whether people can accurately use the patch themselves.

"It is highly desirable to develop pandemic influenza vaccines that can be rapidly produced on a large scale and at low cost, as well as vaccine delivery methods that can achieve mass vaccination within weeks rather than months," the authors wrote. "The patch-based format of microneedles should simplify vaccination and may enable self-administration."

-- Shari Roan / Los Angeles Times

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