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This 3D-printed patch delivers potent—and painless—vaccines

Equipped with 100 microneedles, a 3D printed vaccine patch from DeSimone Research Group—a winner of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—can be painlessly applied like a Band-Aid.

This 3D-printed patch delivers potent—and painless—vaccines

A significant percentage of adults don’t get vaccinated because they are afraid of needles. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that one in 10 people may have delayed their COVID-19 shot to avoid a poke in the arm.

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Researchers at the DeSimone Research Group at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Stanford University have devised a 3D printed vaccine patch that can be painlessly applied like a Band-Aid. The patch—the winner of the experimental category of Fast Company’s 2022 World Changing Ideas Awards—is printed with 100 microneedles (each a teeny 1.5 microns, a fraction of the 70-micron diameter of a human hair) that are coated in a liquid form of a vaccine and then dried, making these patches easy to transport and store. The patch delivers the vaccine directly into the skin where there are more immune cells than exist in the muscles or area on the arm between skin and muscle where conventional needles deliver vaccines.

[Illustration: Harry Campbell]
In mouse studies, the patch resulted in a 50-times-greater immune response than subcutaneous vaccines. Joseph M. DeSimone, the research group’s namesake, says decades of interest in vaccine delivery through microneedles has lagged behind manufacturing capabilities. DeSimone, who cofounded the 3D printing company Carbon, has developed a method that is both fast and consistent. “We’re going to be able to fabricate these very inexpensively,” says DeSimone. The biggest challenge, he says, will be getting vaccine makers to think in terms of this kind of technology.

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About the author

Ruth Reader is a writer for Fast Company. She covers the intersection of health and technology.

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