King’s College London has wonderful news for anyone who is frightened of needles. Scientists at the university have developed a disc covered with a painless microneedle array made of sugar that dissolves upon entering the skin. The disc is embedded with a formulated dried live vaccine that is able to generate the same biological immune response as hypodermic vaccinations. Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the new technology could effectively combat such diseases as malaria, TB, and HIV in developing nations.

Working in collaboration with the US company TheraJect, the scientists at King’s College London have developed a silicone mold sporting tiny needles made of sugar. The team created a dried version of an adenovirus-based candidate HIV vaccine in sucrose and used the mold to refine the microneedle array. They found that the vaccine remained stable at room temperature.

The team was able to identify which cells on the surface of the skin accepted this type of vaccine and triggered the immune system. They also found the first evidence of a subset of specific dendritic cells that activated this response. When compared to the same dose of traditional liquid vaccinations kept -80 degrees Celsius, the outcome was the same, making the new device an attractive alternative to areas that do not have access to refrigeration.

‘This work opens up the exciting possibility of being able to deliver live vaccines in a global context, without the need for refrigeration. It could potentially reduce the cost of manufacturing and transportation, improve safety (as there would be no loss in potency), and avoids the need of hypodermic needle injection, reducing the risk of transmitting blood-borne disease from contaminated needles and syringes.” said Dr Linda Klavinskis from the Peter Gorer Department of Immunobiology at King’s College London.

In addition to its potential use in third world countries, the researchers also point towards future applications in infant vaccination, inflammatory diseases, and diabetes. Soon, instead of having to wince and look away from a giant hypodermic, we may be able to simply stick a bandage on our arms and walk out of the clinic.

+ King’s College London