Researchers at MIT have developed a printer that can create large numbers of microneedle patch-style vaccines in places where they are needed quickly. Moreover, the printed patches can deliver thermostable mRNA vaccines, whereby the mRNA therapeutic is encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles before printing to enhance its shelf-life at room temperature and avoid the need for cold storage and transport. The current prototype can produce 100 such patches over the space of two days, but the researchers believe that they can scale up the technology to produce hundreds of vaccines a day. The technology could be very useful in addressing disease outbreaks in remote areas.
mRNA vaccines have shown huge potential during the COVID-19 pandemic, but one of their limitations is the need to ship vials in cold storage and then keep them in such conditions at their destination until they are needed. This increases the expense of such treatments, and makes it particularly difficult to deliver such vaccines to remote and low-resource areas of the world. A shelf-stable version would be hugely beneficial for people living in such regions.
But what about actually producing the vaccine in the area it is needed? “We could someday have on-demand vaccine production,” said Ana Jaklenec, one of the developers of the new patches. “If, for example, there was an Ebola outbreak in a particular region, one could ship a few of these printers there and vaccinate the people in that location.”
This new technology can achieve these goals. It involves a portable printer that can fit on a tabletop. Clinicians can use the printer to create microneedle patches containing mRNA therapies. Cleverly, the mRNA therapeutics have been encapsulated in lipid nanoparticles so that they are stable at room temperature for several months. Finally, the vaccine patches do not require trained medical staff to administer them – they can simply be applied to the skin.
The printer injects a polymer ink containing the lipid particles into microneedle molds, and then uses a vacuum to pull the ink further into the mold down to the very tip of each needle, creating a sharp point for transcutaneous delivery. Once the patches have been printed, they take a couple of days to dry and fully solidify before use.
“The ink composition was key in stabilizing mRNA vaccines, but the ink can contain various types of vaccines or even drugs, allowing for flexibility and modularity in what can be delivered using this microneedle platform,” said Jaklenec.
Study in journal Nature Biotechnology: A microneedle vaccine printer for thermostable COVID-19 mRNA vaccines