Novel mobile printer creates on-demand, dissolvable vaccine patches
Researchers have developed a mobile printer that creates temperature-stable, dissolvable vaccine patches on demand. The novel device not only does away with vaccine injections, but it would also enable vaccines to be delivered to remote areas.
Vaccines help our bodies create protective antibodies, proteins that fight off infections. Getting vaccinated helps protect against certain diseases and reduces the likelihood that we will spread them to others.
But vaccines, including mRNA vaccines, are fragile biological substances. If they’re exposed to temperatures outside the recommended storage range – between 35 °F/2 °C and 46 °F/8 °C – they can become less effective or even destroyed. This means that getting them to remote areas that don’t have the required cold storage, such as in low- and middle-income countries, can be difficult.
MIT researchers may have developed the solution: a mobile printer that uses novel dissolvable microneedle patches (MNPs) to deliver vaccines directly into the skin.
Using a high-precision robotic dispenser and microneedle molds, the researchers created patches the size of a thumbnail with hundreds of microneedles that were small, sharp and accurate enough to deliver vaccines to humans. They incorporated a stabilizing dissolvable polymer into a bioink made of RNA vaccine molecules encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles (LNP).
Once the patches are printed, a robotic arm injects the bioink into the microneedle molds, and a vacuum sucks the ink to the bottom, ensuring that it is in the needle’s tip. When the patch is applied, the microneedle tips under the skin dissolve, releasing the vaccine without the need for a traditional intramuscular injection. And there's no need to dispose of hazardous and environmentally unfriendly syringes and needles.
The researchers found that using the dissolvable polymer meant that the LNP-encapsulated mRNA was stable at room temperature for at least six months. Testing their temperature-stable, dissolvable COVID-19 RNA vaccine on mice produced a comparable immune response to injected RNA vaccines.
The study’s findings mean that producing vaccines where and when they're needed could one day be a reality, say the researchers.
“We could someday have on-demand vaccine production,” said Ana Jaklenec, corresponding author of the study. “If, for example, there was an Ebola outbreak in a particular region, one could ship a few of these printers there and vaccinate people in that location.”
The printer can fit on a tabletop and be scaled up to produce hundreds of vaccines a day, the researchers say. While this study utilized a COVID-19 vaccine, the researchers plan to expand the device’s use to include other vaccines and other drugs.
“The ink composition was key in stabilizing mRNA vaccines, but the ink can contain various types of vaccines or even drugs, allowing for flexibility and modularity in what can be delivered using this microneedle platform,” Jaklenec said.
The study was published in the journal Nature Biotechnology.