Earlier this week, scientistis revealed in a study the first mobile printer that can produce thumbnail-sized patches to deliver mRNA covid-19 vaccines. Scientists hope that the tabletop device will help immunise people in remote regions.
The experts have called the finding "exciting.” The device prints two-centimetre-wide patches, each containing hundreds of tiny needles that administer a vaccine when pressed against the skin, according to anAFP report.
These microneedle patches, developed by researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), come with several advantages compared to traditional vaccines that are given to the arm. These can be self-administered, are relatively painless, vaccine-hesitant people might prefer this, and they can be stored at room temperature for a long period.
The popular mRNA covid-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna have to be refrigerated, which has been a concern for distribution – particularly in developing countries. This has resulted in unequal distribution of vaccine doses during the ongoing pandemic.
The new mobile printer was tested with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, according to a study in the journalNature Biotechnology, but the research team aims for it to be adapted for any required vaccine. The printer can make 100 patches in 48 hours. With further improvements, the researchers believe it could print thousands a day.
Robert Langer, co-founder of Moderna and one of the study's authors, toldAFPthat he hoped the printer could be used for "the next Covid, or whatever crisis occurs". “We could someday have on-demand vaccine production,” Ana Jaklenec, a research scientist at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research said in MIT's press statement. “If, for example, there was an Ebola outbreak in a particular region, one could ship a few of these printers there and vaccinate the people in that location.”
Microneedle patch vaccines are under development for covid-19 and other diseases, including polio, measles and rubella. However, as producing them is an expensive and labour-intensive process involving large machines, they haven’t yet become quite popular.
To make the process easier, the researchers used a vacuum chamber to suck the printer "ink" into the bottom of their patch moulds, to ensure it reaches the points of the tiny needles, according toAFP.
After they dry, the patches can be stored at room temperature for at least six months, the study found. The patches even survived a month at a balmy 37 degrees Celsius (99 Fahrenheit).
Antoine Flahault, director of the Institute of Global Health at the University of Geneva, said that production and access to vaccines could be "transformed through such a printer". "It might become a real breakthrough," he told theAFPbut also cautioned that this depended on approval and mass production, which could take years.
The printed patches are currently being tested on primates, which, if successful, would lead to human trials.