In my younger years, Immunisation Day was met at my school with a mix of dread and excitement. Sweet to hang out and chat in the pre-needle line, but the needle itself...
(Actually, to be honest, I loved the needle. I used to watch and take pride in not flinching. It's probably 'cos I'm so hardcore. While others quake in their boots, I'm all bring it. You dig? (Of course you do, I gave you that shovel.))
For a lot of people, needles aren't much fun at the time or afterwards under the constant threat of arm punching.
Which brings me in a roundabout way to the Nanopatch. It's an Australian design (that's right, we're claiming it. pwned) that delivers a vaccine through the skin without any pain. I wrote about it about 18 months ago on my blog as a research adventure, but now it's being commercialised! THEY'RE ACTUALLY GOING TO DO THIS! - go into clinical trials I mean.
A little piece of silicon is etched with thousands of nano-sized, pointy projections. The points are coated with a dry vaccine.
When the patch is applied, the projections penetrate into the skin a breadth of a hair deep. There's no pain as it's not deep enough to hit the nerve cells. It simply pokes through that outer layer, and deposits the vaccine to the immune cell laden area just underneath.
The projections get wet after penetration (lol) and the vaccine comes off the patch and into the body.
Why get in the skin?
In the epidermis, the cells targeted are Langerhans cells. I picture them like cellular squid. They start as babies, who with many arms gather up intruders and chew them up. Then they swim to the lymph nodes where they mature, graduate, and present the pieces on their tentacle suckers.
Naïve T-cells passing by in the lymph node activate when they see the shred of antigen. The Langerhans cell has just given a picture to a hit man, the T cell. Once naïve, the T cell now knows it's purpose and matures, looking out for the intruder, armed and ready.
(See this is why I couldn't be a proper science, I'm a helpless anthropomorphiser.)
T cells are part of adaptive immunity that keep you from getting the same disease twice. The Nanopatch reaches them better than needles, and scientists say they've achieved similar immune responses using a hundredth of the dose in animal models.
Cheap and easy
Apart from no pain, Nanopatches require no refrigeration as they are dry. That makes it cheap and easy to transport. The manufacturing method, large scale, should be pretty cheap - at least that's what they're anticipating. It uses similar techniques to microelectronics, so it's not farfetched.
They're also simple to administer, needing no specialist knowledge and no chance of needle stick injuries.
Cheaper, easier vaccines would make a big difference to both developing and developed countries. Particularly in remote areas where transport is difficult.
Nanopatch was developed by lead researcher Mark Kendall at the University of Queensland, and the new company name is Vaxxas. It won the Australian Innovation Challenge this month, and they are continuing development and planning to begin Phase 1 trials. Fingers crossed!
Here's a video if you want to watch more.