Experimental 'microneedle' patch could take sting out of flu shots

Daisy Bourassa helped test an experimental new flu vaccine on her wrist.

"I mean I think it's fantastic," Bourassa says.

Because this was not your typical flu shot.

"Not only are you not seeing this big needle, but you're not seeing the liquid, the syringe," Bourassa says. "It looks just like a Band-Aid."

The microscopic needle patch, developed at Georgia Tech by Dr. Mark Prausnitz was tested last year in a phase I clinical trial with Dr. Nadine Rouphael and her team at the Emory Vaccine Center. Like Daisy said, it looks like a bandage, or maybe a nicotine patch. But if you look closer, under a microscope, it's embedded with tiny needles.

"The needles are very, very small, completely invisible to the eye," says Dr. Rouphael.  "And they completely dissolve into the skin, delivering the vaccine."

Some of the 100 volunteers had a healthcare worker apply the microneedle patch to their wrist for 20 minutes. Others, like Daisy Bourassa, applied it themselves. So what does it feel like?

"The best way I can describe it is like pressing into the hard side of Velcro," says Bourassa. "But 96% (of the volunteers) said it wasn't painful," says Dr. Rouphael.

And the researchers found the microneedle patch worked just as well as the injectable form of the flu vaccine when it came to boosting immunity. It also doesn't require refrigeration, like the typical vaccine does, making it easier to ship and store. And there are no sharps to dispose of. Daisy Bourassa likes the idea of a D-I-Y flu vaccine because it would make getting protected so much easier.

"It's not convenient to take time out of your day and stand in line, and go get this shot that someone else has to administer," Bourassa says.