Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology developed containers that are hollow, injectable and made of polymer microparticles.
The microparticles are made by depositing layers of polymer over an array of silicon molds for the cups and the lids.
The new microparticles resemble tiny coffee cups that can be filled with a drug or vaccine and then sealed with a lid.
Crucially, the design of the cups can be altered so they break down and spill their contents at just the right time.
The key to the innovation is a microparticle that not only contains all the active ingredients of the immunisations, but releases them into the bloodstream in bursts at intervals that can be precisely timed by engineering how the particles are constructed, mimicking the way that the vaccines are given now in separate doses but with only one traumatic needle. Using an automated system, the cups are then filled with vaccine, after which the lids are aligned with them and lowered down into place.
“Each layer is first fabricated on its own, and then they’re assembled together”, Jaklenec says.
The process is known as SEAL (StampEd Assembly of polymer Layers) and according to MIT, it could conceivably even allow for newborn babies to receive a single injection that would deliver all of the vaccines they would need during the first one or two years of life.
“This could have a significant impact on patients everywhere, especially in the developing world”. In doing so we developed a new method that can make structures which current 3-D printing methods cannot.
The molecular weight and structure of the PLGA polymer determines how fast the particles degrade after injection.
Langer’s previous work has focused on drug delivery systems, microchip implants and tissue engineering, including the development of systems to deliver drugs to stop the development of blood vessels to tumours at precise locations within the body and drug-coated cardiovascular stents. By injecting many particles that degrade at different rates, the researchers can generate a strong burst of drug or vaccine at predetermined time points.
A fellow MIT researcher observed that an all-in-one vaccine could “be the difference between not getting vaccinated” and receiving any vaccine at all, cited by the BBC. In tests on mice, researchers were able to time the release of the booster doses to exactly nine, 20, and 41 days after the initial shot.
USA researchers are said to be close to being able to deliver every required vaccine in a single go, and kids and parents both will benefit.