So how does it work?
The Nanopatch is full of micro-nanoprojections containing antigen – part of the bacteria or virus you are immunising against. These nanoprojections puncture the skin and deliver the antigen into your epidermis. The puncture is a breadth of a hair deep.
In your epidermis are Langerhans cells, members of the immune system. Their role is to pick up antigens from infecting nasties, or in this case the Nanopatch. Once they have collected something, they physically move from the skin to your lymph nodes. Lymph nodes are the hub of the immune system. Once there, the Langerhans cells mature and display the antigen to passing naïve T-cells.
T-cells are specialised cells which specifically recognise one type of antigen. It’s like a policeman with a picture of just one criminal. A naïve T-cell doesn’t have a picture yet. It collects one from a Langerhans cell and other cells in the lymph nodes. With that the T-cell matures, looking out for the antigen. Next time it sees it, it will be armed and ready.
T-cells, along with B-cells, protect you from getting the same disease twice. T-cells in particular are needed to clear infections like HIV and malaria, and needle vaccines don’t stimulate them enough. The nanopatch focuses on T-cells specifically. It gives them their first look at the disease, without the pesky side-effect of getting traumatically ill.
According to Queensland University, the latest research shows that the Nanopatch can provide a similar level of protection to a needle delivery, but uses 100 times less vaccine. The Nanopatch is still being trialed on mice.
No more screaming kids on injection day isn’t the only benefit. The Nanopatch will be cheaper to produce than normal vaccines and doesn’t need to be refrigerated or administered by a trained nurse. Lead researcher Mark Kendall said “it is easy to imagine a situation in which a government might provide vaccinations for a pandemic such as swine flu to be collected from a chemist or sent in the mail.” It would be perfect for developing countries, where administering needle vaccines can be difficult and expensive.
Crichton, M., Ansaldo, A., Chen, X., Prow, T., Fernando, G., & Kendall, M. (2010). The effect of strain rate on the precision of penetration of short densely-packed microprojection array patches coated with vaccine Biomaterials, 31 (16), 4562-4572 DOI: 10.1016/j.biomaterials.2010.02.022