Tech Gives Vaccinations a Shot in the Arm

Gienna Shaw, for HealthLeaders Media , January 4, 2011

Microneedle skin patches—small devices that are easy to distribute and easy for laypersons to use—might solve that problem. The patches contain an array of stainless steel microneedles coated with inactivated influenza virus. The patches are pressed into the skin and, after a few minutes, the vaccine coating dissolves within the skin. Researchers say the patches are just as effective at protecting against influenza as conventional hypodermic immunizations.

They are also small and relatively inexpensive to produce, which helps with wide distribution, such as to underserved areas or developing countries. And they're easy to use. Unlike conventional hypodermic injections, microneedles are prepared in a patch for simple administration, possibly by patients themselves, and applied painlessly to the skin without specialized training.

Researchers are also working on a tiny and simple pump that contains a liquid that boils at body temperature—it is activated by the heat from the touch of a finger. The heat causes the liquid to turn to a vapor, exerting enough pressure to force drugs through the microneedles in the patch.

And here’s a bonus: Neither method hurts as much as the traditional ones.

Read more about the work researchers are doing on microneedle skin patches---as well as possible future uses for the devices, in the December issue of HealthLeaders Magazine.

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