Saturday, 2 April 2011

Soon There Will be Shots Without Needles

Everybody hates needles. Children scream when faced with their first vaccinations and there are more than one or two adults who face an all consuming fear of the dreaded needle and faint on sight. Is there hope on the horizon for needle phobia?

Currently needles are used with regard to vaccinations, diabetes, blood tests and the need to get any drug in the human bloodstream quickly. Around 96% of the population hate them because they look nasty, they hurt, they can make you bleed or bruise and if used incorrectly and they can spread disease. So for most of us there may well be good news on the horizon – shots without needles may soon become a common everyday practise.
Researches in the Tulane University of New Orleans have been experimenting with nanotechnology, to see whether they can pass vaccines through the skin without the need for an injection. They have received a healthy grant of $2.3 million to make this happen.

Nanotechnology is the science of manipulating particles in their tiniest form, that of single atoms and molecules. It is believed that vaccines applied using this technology will be more stable, have a longer shelf life and will be more economical to produce. As yet, we are still waiting on the information as to how they intend to deliver the vaccination

Nature Medicine has recently published an article about a skin patch, which holds an array of tiny microneedles, which will administer a vaccine painlessly and harmlessly. 

At the moment conventional vaccines are injected into muscle, be it that of the arm or thigh. Mark Prausnitz, author of the paper at Georgia Institute of Technology, thinks that the surface of the skin is possibly a much better entry point, due to the fact that our skin triggers an immune response which is very important for a vaccine to work.

The needles themselves would be constructed out of a polymer that would slowly dissolve into our skin. Microscopic in length, the needles would quickly penetrate the outer layer of the epidermis, before dispersing harmlessly into our bloodstream. So vaccines could soon be applied in much the same way as a plaster.

Researcher’s who tested the application on mice, found that the levels of protection from this form of skin patch were equal to those of an injection and furthermore, there was a much lower level of virus in their lungs, suggesting a much better immune response.

If these inventions do make their way to the worldwide market they will make an immeasurable difference. They will be far cheaper than their conventional counterparts, able to be administered quickly and painlessly, much less invasive, will not spread disease and have no costly or dangerous medical waste to dispose of. It would also be far easier to transport a box full of skin patches to developing countries – they would be much lighter and would have no chance of breaking in transit.

This isn’t all – PowerMed has invented a new Star Trek like super vaccine gun called the PMED. Looking much like a small flashlight, it uses helium to shoot microscopic DNA particles just below the surface of the epidermis at 1500 mph. The shot hits just above the nerve endings, which makes it painless and far more efficient as this is where immunity producing cells gather in large numbers. In fact, it only uses 1000th of the dose that would be required of a single injection. This would mean a massive cost saving when purchasing vaccines. As vaccines can also be stored in powder form, they don’t require a fridge or expensive refrigerated transportation. Influenza and Hepatitis vaccines are already in the making… soon to be seen in a country near you we hope…

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