In a research article published in Nature Biotechnology, a team from the Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research at MIT details their journey in devising an exciting new methodology for delivering vaccines such as the COVID-19 mRNA vaccine. They have developed a “printer” for microneedle patches smaller than the average postage stamp that penetrate the skin to perform their vaccine delivery. The project predates the COVID-19 pandemic, as the research team was originally tapped by the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) to come up with technologies that enable on-demand access to vaccines—in lieu of stockpiling vaccines, all in preparation for proper care at scale in a pandemic-type setting.
“We hope the systems and principles developed in our Nature Biotechnology paper to create a mobile vaccine printer will someday enable people in remote areas to receive vaccines on demand,” Dr. Robert Langer, whose lab at MIT served as the home base for the research effort. “We also hope this new way of creating microneedle patches as well as the new ways of stabilizing vaccines so that they will no longer have to be refrigerated will further increase the utility of mRNA vaccines and other vaccines for people worldwide.”
Purposed to be critically helpful in the event of a natural disaster or another resource-scrambling occurrence, the self-administration-ready microneedle patches are smaller than a square centimeter and can be applied through the arm, leg, or practically anywhere on an individual’s skin surface. The “ink” comprising the vaccines are made up of lipid nanoparticles loaded with mRNA and a dissolvable polymer blend. The end-product microneedle patches have proven to be shelf-stable at room temperature for up to half a year.