Needle-free COVID-19 vaccine patch in development using UT Austin technology

Coronavirus

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia are working with a company called Vaxxas to test the patch now.

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Imagine going to get vaccinated, but instead of a health care worker injecting you with a needle, you’re able to place a patch on your own skin. With a simple ‘click’ from a handheld applicator, you’re protected against COVID-19. That’s what a group of global researchers and technicians are hoping to create, using technology discovered by the University of Texas at Austin.

Researchers at the University of Queensland in Australia are working with a company called Vaxxas to test the patch now.

Here’s how it works: the one square-centimeter patch contains thousands of microscopic projections, coated with a stabilized spike protein. It’s then placed on the skin to hopefully deliver immunity against SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes the COVID-19 disease.

A needle-free COVID-19 vaccination could be possible, with University of Queensland scientists successfully protecting mice from the virus with a 'patch' that uses University of Texas at Austin technology. (Courtesy: Vaxxas and University of Queensland)
A needle-free COVID-19 vaccination could be possible, with University of Queensland scientists successfully protecting mice from the virus with a ‘patch’ that uses University of Texas at Austin technology. (Courtesy: Vaxxas and University of Queensland)

That spike protein was developed in early 2020 by Molecular Biosciences Associate Professor Dr. Jason McLellan and his team. Their spike protein discovery still serves as the basis for of all the vaccines currently approved for distribution in the United States.

His team then went on to create an even more “stabilized” version of this spike protein, and this second-generation technology is what’s used in the patch.

McLellan told KXAN, “it could be a really interesting development that could help vaccinate a lot of people.”

The researchers said the patch can be kept at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit for nearly a month, making it easier to store than some other vaccines with extremely cold storage requirements and therefore easier to distribute in certain countries with storage limitations. The patch could also be shipped in the mail, which McLellan said could possibly help bolster vaccination efforts in other countries.

He went on, “It could also be a game changer, because it doesn’t require skilled health care workers to handle the syringe to perform the dilutions. Pretty much anybody could just put it on their arm and use it,” he said.

According to the researchers in Australia, early research reveals the device produced strong immune responses in exposed to SARS-CoV-2

“It also neutralizes multiple variants, including the UK and South Africa variants,” said Dr. David Muller, of the University of Queensland.

Dr. Jaqueline Dudley with the the LaMontagne Center for Infectious Disease said these mutations and variants are a big reason they are encouraging people to consider the vaccine, if they haven’t gotten it.

“Every time the virus infects someone, there’s a chance it’s going to generate new variants,” she explained.

Dr. Dudley and Dr. McLellan agreed the already-authorized vaccines seem to be effective against the variants, but they are working about a spike in cases among unvaccinated people, particularly after the Fourth of July.

The Vaxxas Nanopatch is still in the early testing phases in Australia now.

Several recent UT Austin graduates told KXAN’s Avery Travis they’re not surprised there’s a tie to their alma mater.

“Everyone in Texas, and America, can take pride in the fact that we can create things like this that will help so many people,” said Karan Bahl.

Sandhra Sushilkumar added, “UT has always been on the forefront of research and new scientific advancements. A vaccine patch would be something that’s awesome.”

To read more about the patch’s development, click here.

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