A new needle-free flu vaccine patch revved up the immune system much like a traditional flu shot without any negative side effects, according to a study published in the Journal of Investigative Dermatology. Though the research is in the early stages (the patch hasn't been tested in humans), it's an important step toward a technology that could replace needle-based vaccination methods that require administration by health care workers and biohazard waste removal.
"Scientists have been studying needle-free vaccine approaches for nearly two decades, but none of the technologies have lived up to the hype," said Benjamin L. Miller, Ph.D., corresponding author and Dean's Professor of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center. "Our patch overcomes a lot of the challenges faced by microneedle patches for vaccine delivery, the main method that's been tested over the years, and our efficacy and lack of toxicity make me excited about the prospect of a product that could have huge implications for global health."
Common skin disease paves the way for needleless flu shot
Transporting big molecules like flu vaccine proteins across the skin is difficult to do, as the skin is intended to keep things out of the body, not to let them in. The study team took lessons learned from the research and treatment of a common inflammatory skin disease to overcome this hurdle and inform their flu vaccine patch strategy.
In patients with eczema, or atopic dermatitis, the skin barrier is leaky, allowing pollens, molds and a host of other allergens to enter through the skin and be sensed by the immune system. Lisa A. Beck, M.D., corresponding author and Dean's Professor of Dermatology at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered that the expression of a protein called claudin-1 helps maintain barrier strength and lessen the permeability of the skin. Claudin-1 is significantly reduced in eczema patients (hence the leaky skin barrier) compared to individuals without the disease.