Coming Soon: Flu Vaccination Without the Use of Needles

Japanese research suggests that influenza vaccination using a dissolving microneedle patch made of hyaluronic acid appears to be promising for practical use as an easy and effective method to replace conventional injection systems.

Japanese research suggests that influenza vaccination using a dissolving microneedle patch made of hyaluronic acid appears to be promising for practical use as an easy and effective method to replace conventional injection systems.

Published in the July 2015 issue of Biomaterials, the study indicates that the vaccination system could make vaccination easier, safer, and less painful. Whereas most vaccines are injected subcutaneously, require medical personnel with technical skills, and come with the risk of needle-related diseases and injuries, the microneedle patch eliminates needle-related risks and is easy to use, making for a system that does not require trained medical professionals. The patch is applied to the skin like a plaster, at which point the needles pierce the top layer of skin an dissolve into the body, bringing the vaccine with them.

“Our novel transcutaneous vaccination using a dissolving microneedle patch is the only application vaccination system that is readily adaptable for widespread practical use,” said senior author, Shinsaku Nakagawa, Professor, Laboratory of Biotechnology and Therapeutics, Graduate School of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Osaka University. “Because the new patch is so easy to use, we believe it will be particularly effective in supporting vaccination in developing countries.”

Not only was the patch shown to be easy to use, the researchers found that no participants in the study who received the patch experienced severe local or systemic adverse events. When compared with a group of patients who received vaccination against the A/H1N1, A/H3N2, and B strains of influenza via subcutaneous injection, those who received the same vaccinations using the microneedle patch had equally induced immune responses against A/H1N1 and A/H3N2; the efficacy of the vaccine against the B strain was actually found to be stronger in the microneedle patch group than in the subcutaneous injection group.

“We were excited to see that our new microneedle patch is just as effective as the needle-delivered flu vaccines, and in some cases even more effective,” said Nakagawa.

Nakagawa and colleagues explain that their microneedle patch is unlike others that have been previously studied. Previous studies assessed microneedles made of metal or silicon that were not found to be safe. Such systems came with the risk of breaking off and leaving fragments in the skin. Being made of a dissolvable material enables the current system to avoid this risk.

“We have shown that the patch is safe and that it works well,” said Nakagawa. “Since it is also painless and very easy for non-trained people to use, we think it could bring about a major change in the way we administer vaccines globally.”