Updated: June 03, 2021 09:45 PM
Created: June 03, 2021 07:03 PM
Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a vaccine wafer that could be a "game-changer" in how vaccines are administered.
"We could have vaccines given without pain and very friendly, especially to kids," said Chun Wang, associate professor of biomedical engineering.
Wang spent the last five years creating freeze-dried polymer wafers that are about a half-centimeter in size. They would be placed underneath a person's tongue.
"We wanted to make sure to have the right balance of protecting the vaccine but being sticky enough to stay in the mouth," Wang explained.
Wang said the wafers would stay in the mouth for several hours while being absorbed and would not be impacted by eating or drinking.
He said the vaccine would be released through a part of the mouth that is connected to the lymphatic and immune systems.
"It's a great portal to access our human body and it should be used more often," Wang said.
He said ingesting a wafer instead of getting a shot would solve many problems surrounding how vaccines are administered. Wang said needles are not only painful, but they also generate a significant amount of waste.
Vaccines administered via syringe typically also need to be frozen or refrigerated. He said the freeze-dried wafers can be stored at room temperature.
"Making these wafers was the first thing I did on my first day in grad school, so it's definitely very exciting to see how far it's come," said Sam Hanson, a former PhD student who was on the team developing the wafers.
The researchers said the wafers could be customized to work with a variety of vaccines, from childhood vaccines like measles, mumps and rubella to hepatitis and COVID-19.
The vaccine wafers could also be flavored.
"We want something simple, something scalable, biocompatible and safe but also effective," Wang said.
He noted the vaccine wafers have been shown to work in trials with mice.
"They found they are as effective as a vaccine that's fresh, taken out of the freezer," Wang said. "I think that's the future of healthcare and hopefully we're at the forefront."
If vaccine makers invest in this idea, Wang believes vaccine wafers could be on the market for humans in the next three to five years.
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