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Scientists from Swansea University in Wales are striving to develop the first coronavirus vaccine ‘smart patch’.
The patch will use microneedles to both administer the coronavirus vaccine and monitor its efficacy for the patient by tracking the body’s immune response.
The research team plans to develop a prototype by the end of March, in the hope it can be put forward for clinical trials and ultimately released to the public, as part of the effort to tackle the coronavirus outbreak.
Scientists at Swansea’s IMPACT research centre hope to carry out human clinical studies in partnership with Imperial College London with the aim of making the device commercially available within three years.
Using polycarbonate or silicon millimetre-long microneedles, the smart patch can penetrate the skin to administer a vaccine. It can be held in place with a strap or tape for up to 24 hours, during which time it simultaneously measures a patient’s inflammatory response to the vaccination by monitoring biomarkers in the skin.
Once the vaccine has been administered, the device is scanned to produce a data reading that can provide an understanding about the efficacy of the vaccine and the body’s response to it.
Those involved in the project received Welsh government and European funding as part of the global response to overcome the coronavirus pandemic, though scientists hope the smart patch could also be used to treat other infectious diseases, the BBC reports.
Medical engineering lecturer Dr Sanjiv Sharma explained the body’s production of immunoglobulins – antibodies that form a critical part of our immune defences – are ‘good markers’ of showing the efficacy of vaccination.
Discussing the smart patch, Sharma said the scientists expect to see the production of immunoglobulins in response to the self-administration of the device.
This low-cost vaccine administration device will ensure a safe return to work and management of subsequent Covid-19 outbreaks.
Beyond the pandemic, the scope of this work could be expanded to apply to other infectious diseases as the nature of the platform allows for quick adaption to different infectious diseases.
There are currently no other devices commercially available that provide vaccines in this manner, though Sharma said the patch is similar to ‘continuous glucose monitoring sensors’ used by people with diabetes.
The device may serve as a more desirable way for people who are scared of injections to receive the vaccine, as PhD student Olivia Howells explained the patch does not penetrate as deeply as needles. Howells added that the patches are cheaper than hypodermic needles, meaning they could be useful in countries struggling with resources for vaccination.
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