May 29 - Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are developing a patch that could one day replace the feared needle and syringe for vaccinations. The patch is made up of microscopic needles that pierce the outer layer of skin, allowing vaccine into the body without the stress and pain of a visit to the doctor's office. Ben Gruber reports.
Every parent dreads it, a trip to the doctor's office for a child's vaccinations... And it's not just kids. A large portion of the adult population, 20 percent according to the Centers for Disease Control, avoid getting their annual flu shot due to a fear of needles. But Mark Prausnitz, a professor of chemical and bio-molecular engineering at Georgia Tech, says the days of long scary needles for administering vaccinations may soon be over. He and his team are developing patches made up of hundreds of microscopic needles that dissolve into the skin to deliver vaccines painlessly. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARK PRAUSNITZ, PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSITITUE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "We have a solid needle structure which is made up of the drug as well as we add some sugars, polymers, and various materials to stabilize the drug so it doesn't get damaged and to also give mechanical strength to the micro needle so that when you press it into the skin you don't have the needle bend or break or otherwise have problems." Conventional hypodermic needles are inserted deep into muscle tissue, but Prausnitz says that initial tests in mice have shown that his micro-needles, which need only pierce the outermost layer of skin, are more effective in administering a flu shot. And if you're scared of doctors as well as needles, Prausnitz has an answer for that to. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MARK PRAUSNITZ, PROFESSOR OF CHEMICAL ENGINEERING, GEORGIA INSITITUE OF TECHNOLOGY, SAYING: "We would like people to self administer that flu vaccine. Stop by the grocery store, the pharmacy, another shop and bring home patched for the whole family and apply them to the skin and you have taken care of your flu shot for the year." And having people self administer their vaccines would also save money. Prausnitz says initial estimates show that micro-needle patches would cost about the same to manufacture as conventional needles, but taking health care professionals out of the equation would halve the overall cost of vaccinations. Prausnitz says his micro-needles will undergo a phase 1 human clinical trial early next year... and if all goes well... they will be ready for commercialization in time for for flu season, 2019.