British researchers announced that they have developed a new technique that delivers vaccines in the body without needles. The technique could help deliver vaccines through the skin via ultrasounds without using needles that harm the skin and cause pain. The findings were presented at an international conference in Australia on Monday.
An estimated quarter of adults and two-thirds of children have strong fears around needles, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet, public health depends on people being willing to receive vaccines, which are often administered by a jab.
The new method relies on ultrasound pulses to form small bubbles that clear passages through the skin. Then, the pulses deliver the vaccine molecules through the bubbles, which allows its diffusion in the surrounding tissues.
“Our method relies on an acoustic effect called ‘cavitation,’ which is the formation and popping of bubbles in response to a sound wave,” said Darcy Dunn-Lawless, lead author from the University of Oxford’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering.
“We aim to harness the concentrated bursts of mechanical energy produced by these bubble collapses in three main ways. First, to clear passages through the outer layer of dead skin cells and allow vaccine molecules to pass through. Second, to act as a pump that drives the drug molecules into these passages. Lastly, to open up the membranes surrounding the cells themselves, since some types of vaccine must get inside a cell to function,” she explained.
Initial in vivo tests reported that the vaccine molecules delivered by the new approach produced a higher immune response, according to the Eurekalert website.
The researchers theorize this could be due to the immune-rich skin the ultrasonic delivery targets in contrast to the muscles that receive the jab.
According to Lawless, the result is a more efficient vaccine that could help reduce costs and increase efficacy with little risk of side effects. The team plans further research to explore the efficacy and safety of the new approach for specific vaccines like DNA vaccines.