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Microneedles Send Tiny Doses Of Vaccine To The Skin

An Australian biomedical engineer, Mark Kendall, has won the 2012 Rolex Awards for changing the way life-saving vaccines are delivered.

| December 10, 2012 | Technology

AsianScientist (Dec. 10, 2012) - An Australian biomedical engineer, Mark Kendall, has won the 2012 Rolex Awards for changing the way life-saving vaccines are delivered.

He was one of the five 2012 Rolex Laureates to be honored at a special ceremony in New Delhi on November 27. The other winners were Sergei Bereznuk, Russia; Barbara Block, the United States; Erika Cuéllar, Bolivia; and Aggrey Otieno, Kenya. Five Young Laureates under 30 also received awards.

Kendall won for devising the “Nanopatch,” which places a tiny dose of inoculant just under the skin painlessly, but with more than 100 times the efficacy of needle delivery.

As a lecturer at Oxford University in the U.K., Kendall's first stroke of genius was to use of a tiny rocket “gun” to fire powdered vaccine into the skin at 2,000 km/h. Known as PowderJect, this innovation led to a new research center and a technology sale by Oxford University worth US$400 million to pharmaceutical giant Pfizer.

Kendall wanted to achieve greater precision and efficacy, by inserting vaccine at the exact position in the skin for optimal protection. He envisioned an array of micro-spikes of precisely the right length and spacing. The Nanopatch was conceived – but the technical and developmental challenges were formidable.

To mass produce such a tiny device, Kendall raided the latest computer-chip technology, employing a stream of ions to blow away the surrounding silicon matrix and leaving a forest of tiny spikes barely a tenth of a millimeter tall.

But they were just spikes, not hollow needles, so Kendall used his fluid mechanics expertise to devise a gas-jet method to powder-coat the spikes with vaccine ingredients. Coupling this with new insights into the mechanical properties of human skin, he was able to create a device that can deliver a minute dose of dry vaccine right where it is needed.

The Nanopatch is made from silicon wafers that have tiny micrometer spikes coated with vaccines (Photo: Rolex Awards).

Expected to be painless, the Nanopatch only has to remain in place for a minute or so to immunize the recipient, says its inventor. It can be cheaply manufactured from silicon or polycarbonate for much less than US$1 dollar and uses less than one percent of the standard vaccine dose – a major cost saving.

Above all, it is stable in hot temperatures and does not depend on the long, costly, and vulnerable “cold chain” of refrigeration required to deliver today’s vaccines, he says. In remote areas, maintaining this cold chain can devour 80 percent of vaccination campaign funds.

“Even in places where vaccination is happening, people still die due to failures in the cold chain which render the vaccines inactive,” he explains. “The Nanopatch overcomes that concern because it does not need refrigeration.”

After joining the University of Queensland’s Australian Institute for Bioengineering and Nanotechnology (AIBN) as a professor in 2006, Kendall successfully tested the patch in animals and humans and raised development capital to co-found a company, Vaxxas, in 2011, to develop the Nanopatch worldwide.

Kendall intends to use the 100,000 Swiss francs (US$107,000) prize money to conduct a field trial in nearby Papua New Guinea where medical and climatic conditions mirror much of the developing world. This field trial will follow the first human trials of the patch in Brisbane, Australia, and will involve “blank” Nanopatches (without vaccine) in human volunteers.

Next, Kendall plans to run an international trial using the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine, which protects women against cervical cancer. Beyond that, Kendall sees diseases such as influenza, malaria, West Nile virus, herpes, chickungunya, and even HIV as promising targets.

“I have an absolute passion to deliver better vaccination to the low-resource regions of the world, without them having to wait years for it to trickle down from the developed world,” he says.


Source: Rolex Awards, with adaptions to the original story by Julian Cribb.
Disclaimer: This article does not necessarily reflect the views of AsianScientist or its staff.

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