Pain-free patch uses dissolving microneedles to deliver your yearly flu shot

There are plenty of reasons why needle-and-syringe immunization isn’t great — ranging from the difficulty of self-administering it to, well, the fact that some people hate being stuck in the arm with a sharp bit of metal. Fortunately, it seems like the folks at Georgia Institute of Technology and Emory University have come to much the same conclusion. With these issues in mind, they’ve developed a new experimental Band-Aid-sized flu patch that could one day replace your annual flu shot by way of dissolving microneedles.

“Collaborators at GA Tech have been working on a microneedle patch (MNP) for vaccine delivery for many years,” Dr. Nadine Rouphael, professor at the Emory University School of Medicine and first author of the study, told Digital Trends. “The microneedles are tiny and dissolve within the superficial layers of the skin. The goal of the technology is to be safe, effectively deliver vaccines, and be simple to use.”

In a trial of 100 patients, the pain-free patch was concluded to be safe for use in humans, while also carrying out its use case of generating the right antibody response to fight flu. In the aftermath, more than 70 percent of patch recipients said they’d prefer a patch-based vaccination to a traditional injection, or even a nasal spray, when getting future vaccinations.

The fact that the patch can be used anywhere is one of the things that makes it so exciting. In the recent study, a subgroup of subjects had to administer the vaccine themselves, and were easily able to do so. Considering that the World Health Organization estimates that between 250,000 and 500,000 people die from influenza each year, a technology like this could help treat people who might otherwise not travel into a flu clinic for whatever reason.

“Since the MNP completely dissolve, leaving no sharp waste behind, and does not require refrigeration, it makes it very attractive for self administration outside healthcare settings,” Rouphael said.

Next up, Rouphael said the goal is to carry out studies in different populations and different vaccines. “This summer Micron Biomedical — the manufacturer of the patch — and Emory University will be conducting MNP placebo studies in kids,” she said. “Micron Biomedical, GA Tech and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), with funds from the Gates and Melinda Foundations, will [also] be testing the patch for measles, rubella, and inactivated polio in 2018 to 2019.”

Between this and the various early warning technologies researchers have come up for tracking the spread of flu, hopefully we’re getting closer to being able to avoid the sneaky influenza virus whenever it rears its ugly head.