3D printed vax patch could boost immunity

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A 3D printed patch that uses microneedles to deliver vaccination has been found to produce an immune response 10 times greater than traditional muscular injection.

Developed by researchers at Stanford University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the small patch features 3D printed microneedles set into a polymer substrate. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Scientists, showed that the microneedle patch created a significant T-cell and antigen-specific antibody response that was 50 times greater than a subcutaneous injection.

The US based team claims that this heightened immune response could lead to dose sparing, with a microneedle vaccine patch requiring a much smaller dose than a needle and syringe to generate a comparable immune response.

The patches were 3D printed at the UNC using a CLIP prototype 3D printer developed by lead study author Joseph M DeSimone, professor of translational medicine and chemical engineering at Stanford University and professor emeritus at UNC-Chapel Hill.

“In developing this technology, we hope to set the foundation for even more rapid global development of vaccines, at lower doses, in a pain and anxiety free manner,” said DeSimone.

“One of the biggest lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic is that innovation in science and technology can make or break a global response. Thankfully we have biotech and health care workers pushing the envelope for us all.”

Microneedle patches have been studied for decades, but the team’s work aims to overcome previous challenges of adaptation through 3D printing. Most microneedle vaccines are fabricated with master templates to make moulds, however this is not very versatile and can lead to reduced needle sharpness during replication.

“Our approach allows us to directly 3D print the microneedles which gives us lots of design latitude for making the best microneedles from a performance and cost point of view,” said Shaomin Tian, a researcher in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology in the UNC School of Medicine

The microneedles can be customised to develop various vaccine patches for flu, measles, hepatitis or Covid-19. The team is currently formulating Covid mRNA vaccines, like the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, into microneedle patches for future testing.