The needle and syringe were invented in 1853 by Scotsman Alexander Wood in Edinburgh, Scotland – and it has stayed astonishingly unchanged in the intervening one hundred and sixty years. Mark Kendall, professor at the University of Queensland in Australia joins us from his TED talk to discuss what he perceives as a vital update our needle-based vaccinations need. After clean water and sanitation, vaccines are the one technology that has increased our life span the most. That’s a pretty hard act to beat.
WHO has figures that suggest about 1.3 million deaths per year take place due to cross-contamination with needlestick injuries. These are early deaths that take place due to the delivery method the medical community has stuck by for the last century – the needle and syringe. This ignores the additional loss of life from needle-phobic persons who avoid vaccines altogether out of fear.
Kendall’s work has brought into being “the nanopatch,” a postage-stamp sized device made using a technique called deep reactive ion etching. And this particular technique is one that’s been borrowed from the semiconductor industry, and therefore is low cost and can be rolled out in large numbers.
Used in concert with a plunger-type applicator, the nanopatch delivers the vaccine in a subcutaneous and instantaneous method, simultaneously eliminating the risk of operator failure with traditional needle methods, as well as soothing the fears of the approximately 20% of the population that is needle-phobic.
The nanopatch pins themselves, by virtue of their massively smaller scale compared to needles, can improve the immune response in other, subtle ways. Because they target the immediate subcutaneous layer, they interact with a certain type of cell called a Langerhans cell — every square millimeter of our body is jammed full of Langerhans cells, immune cells, and the nanopatch delivers the inert disease to them, allowing our body’s immune system to more effectively generate an autoimmune response.
Because of the unique delivery, the nanopatch can deliver a preventative response with one-one-hundredth of the dosage, bringing a ten dollar vaccine’s cost down to a dime, which is vitally important in the developing world.
The nanopatch’s solid state (rather than liquid, as current syringe-based vaccines) allow it to be “shelf-stable,” giving massive advantages to areas that lack proper refrigeration techniques allowing them to sidestep the Cold Chain required of traditional vaccines.
Papau New Guinea is the first live, wide-scale test of the nanopatch, as Dr. Kendall and his team are set to deploy it to combat HPV, the leading cause of cervical cancer. In a country the size of France with only 800 refrigerators, most ancient models that have fallen into disrepair, it’s vital that the Nanopatch and its shelf-stable vaccine be utilized to help bring an end to this dangerous precursor.
Dr. Kendall dreams of a future where the 17 million deaths per year that we currently have due to infectious disease is a historical footnote. And it’s a historical footnote that will be achieved by radically improved vaccines, and those improvements start with the Nanopatch.