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Posted: April 23, 2009
With nanotechnology the end of painful needles is in sight
(Nanowerk News) The end of painful needles is in sight. Patches will pierce the skin and deliver fewer toxins, write Graeme O'Neill and Deborah Smith in today's Sydney Morning Herald.
The end of deep, painful vaccine injections is in sight. One of the first widespread applications of nanotechnology in medicine could be a painless, needle-free vaccine "nanopatch" being developed by Australian scientists.
It also promises to bring much-needed protection against deadly diseases to people in remote areas where there is a lack of refrigeration or disposable syringes for traditional vaccines. A nanopatch could be sent by post.
It will still pierce the skin. The centimetre-square silicon device has thousands of ultra-sharp microscopic spikes coated with dried vaccine. When applied lightly, it would cause no pain because it penetrates less than a hair's thickness below the surface.
The tiny spikes deliver vaccine close to where immune cells, known as dendritic cells, are found. Hypodermic injections, on the other hand, inject most of the vaccine too deep to activate these disease-fighters, making the vaccine less effective.
Many of our ancient microbial foes remain unconquered, says Gray. Polio has begun to break out again in Third World countries where it had been eradicated. Malaria is resurgent in tropical regions, measles still thrives, and an influenza pandemic is a constant threat.
"Eliminating or controlling diseases that have haunted humans for millennia requires a quantum leap in vaccine technology," Gray says.
Nanotechnology - the science of the very small - will provide some of these solutions, he says. Along with the nanopatch devised by Professor Mark Kendall, vaccines engineered to resemble viruses are also being developed at the institute, as well as nanoparticles that can deliver drugs to where they are needed in the body.