Researchers from Georgia Tech and Emory University have developed an ePatch that could enable broader DNA vaccine deployment and simplify the process of delivering a vaccine—all at a lower cost.
“Our goal was to design a method for COVID-19 vaccination that is simple, low-cost, and manufacturable, said Dengning Xia, associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University in China and lead author of a study on the device’s development and operation.
About the size of a pen, the idea for the internal components of the battery-free handheld device came from observing how a barbeque lighter works.
“Our a-ha moment was the fact that it doesn’t have a battery or plug into the wall, unlike conventional electroporation equipment,” stated Saad Bhamla, assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. “And these lighter components cost just pennies, while currently available electroporators cost thousands of dollars each.”
The researchers integrated short microneedles into the device to facilitate an electrical interface with the skin. “The close spacing of the microneedles allows us to use microsecond pulses rather than the millisecond pulses applied in the conventional electroporation,” said Mark Prausnitz, a professor and department chair at Georgia Tech. “This shorter pulse, plus the shallow location of the microneedle electrodes, minimizes nerve and muscle stimulation, which can avoid pain and twitching, both common side effects of conventional microporation.”
The researchers tested the device using an experimental DNA COVID-19 vaccine. They stated that the ePatch generated an immune response that was nearly 10 times over intramuscular immunization or intradermal injection without electroporation. The device was tested on a mouse. The researchers suspect that the ePatch could work with an mRNA vaccine as well and are studying its application.
Refinements to the ePatch system are currently underway, and researchers expect it could take more than five years for the device to complete clinical study (including human trials) and be ready for broader use. Their hopes are that the ePatch could revolutionize the vaccine process and enable equitable dispersion of a vaccine to underserved and under-resourced regions on a global scale.