An array of ‘microneedles’ like those pictured here (visualised using scanning electron microscopy) could help transform the way we get vaccinated. Each conical microneedle is less than a millimetre tall, and a quarter as thick. A patch, as big as a thumbprint, of the pinhead-sized points would be enough to painlessly deliver a single vaccine dose. Bioengineers manufacture the patches using a laser to etch conical cavities into a rubber mould and then pour biodegradable plastic into the tiny template. Once vaccine is incorporated and the patch pressed lightly into the skin, the natty needles penetrate the skin’s surface, dissolve and release the vaccine. Microneedles of various shapes and sizes are being tested to suit different skin types and medications in the hope that before long, the painful prick of the hypodermic needle will be a thing of the past.
Written by Caroline Cross
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