Flu season is here and though many are protecting themselves with the influenza vaccine, there remains a considerable number of people who are hesitant to get vaccinated, often due to a fear of needles. Exciting new research from the University of Rochester may put an end to needle-phobia and make immunization a more comfortable process for all.
The study team developed a novel vaccine patch, which delivers the same viral proteins found in vaccines through a patch stuck on the skin for 18 hours. To combat the challenge of delivering large protein molecules through layers of tightly joined skin cells, the researchers drew inspiration from an unlikely source: atopic dermatitis (eczema).
Eczema occurs when epidermal tissue becomes too permeable, allowing allergens to penetrate and inflame the skin. The team engineered the patch to temporarily increase skin permeability by inhibiting an epidermal protein (claudin-1), without any side effects. When an influenza vaccine patch was tested on mice, the mice showed enhanced levels of antigen-specific antibodies comparable to the intramuscular influenza vaccine control.
If successful in future studies, the patch may become a painless, non-invasive alternative to a variety of needle vaccines, which does not require administration by healthcare workers or biohazard waste removal. Authors also commented on the ability of skin-based delivery of antigens to elicit robust cellular immunity, leading to potential applications in a universal vaccine for influenza.