Need a vaccination but are scared of needles? Don't have time to visit a clinic? In the near future, these problems will no longer exist. Scientists have invented a new type of microneedle vaccine patch to solve these and other vaccination difficulties. The microneedle vaccine patch can deliver vaccine to the thin layer beneath the surface of the skin, making it far more effective than the conventional needle and syringe. In addition, vaccination by the microneedle vaccine patch causes no pain. Scientists are currently working on this new technology, which will also allow people to vaccinate themselves without the need for medical professionals.
To enable the public to learn more about this new vaccination technology, Hong Kong Science Museum's Science News Corner presents a new exhibition, "Painless Vaccination", which runs from today (November 16) to March 31 next year. The exhibition introduces the findings of Dr Chen Xianfeng, Assistant Professor of the Department of Physics and Materials Science of City University of Hong Kong and his "painless vaccination" research team.
Infectious diseases like smallpox, malaria, polio, bubonic plague and influenza have inflicted a great deal of damage throughout human history. In the war against these diseases, vaccination is one of our most powerful weapons, and works by stimulating our immune system with vaccines, thus preventing the disease.
Needle and syringe injection is the most common method of vaccination nowadays, delivering the vaccine into our muscles or subcutis. However this method, which has been in use for more than a century, has many disadvantages, such as the pain caused, infection due to improper usage of needle and syringe, needle injury, requirements of refrigeration, trained personnel and administration, and low vaccine efficacy.
The new microneedle vaccine patch contains thousands of tiny microneedles which can deliver vaccine to the thin layer beneath the surface of the skin. After these microneedles pierce the skin, the vaccine will dissolve into it after a few minutes. As our skin contains plenty of immune cells, vaccination on the skin greatly enhances its effectiveness. Furthermore, the microneedles are much less than 1mm in length, so they do not cause any pain.
Compared with the conventional needle and syringe approach, the vaccine on the microneedle patches will be available in dry form, meaning that they are relatively stable and have the potential to remove the expensive refrigeration costs involved in vaccine transport and storage. Microneedle patches are also easy to administer, so major vaccination campaigns of the future may require far less trained personnel.
Besides vaccination, microneedle technology can also be used to deliver drugs such as insulin and hormone for the treatment of diabetes and osteoporosis. These drugs need to be used routinely by patients for periods ranging from months to years. Administered by needle and syringe, this procedure can be very painful for patients. Using microneedle technology instead will greatly reduce the pain. The City University of Hong Kong is currently working in these areas and expects to further develop the application of microneedle technology.
The Hong Kong Science Museum is located at 2 Science Museum Road, Tsim Sha Tsui East. It is open from 10am to 7pm on weekdays, and from 10am to 9pm on weekends and public holidays. It is closed on Thursdays (except public holidays). Admission is $25 with half-price concessions for full-time students, people with disabilities and senior citizens aged 60 or above. Admission is free on Wednesdays.
For details of the exhibition and related programmes, visit the webpage on the Science Museum's website at http://hk.science.museum/ese/esnc.php. For enquiries, please call 2732 3232.
Ends/Friday, November 16, 2012