A new technique for vaccine delivery is good news for those with an aversion to needles — instead of a sharp prick, the technique uses a pill-sized device to deliver a blast of vaccine inside the mouth.
Researchers at UC Berkeley developed the new technology, called MucoJet, and found that the oral delivery method was highly effective for building immunity in the mouth, at least in animal studies.
Testing the new approach in rabbits, the researchers found that placing the MucoJet device against the inside of the cheek — and allowing the device to release a “jet stream” of vaccine molecules — achieved immunity among the buccal region of the mouth, which is replete with immune cells.
“The jet is similar in pressure to a water pick that dentists use,” said Kiana Aran, an assistant professor at the Keck Graduate Institute of Claremont University.
“The pressure is very focused, the diameter of the jet is very small, so that’s how it penetrates the mucosal layer,” added Aran, who developed the technology while studying at Berkeley.
The researchers note that targeting the buccal region of the mouth is largely a missed opportunity among current vaccination techniques because such techniques, including currently available oral sprays, aren’t able to penetrate through the mucosal layer.
Using the MucoJet technology, researchers found that it delivered seven times as many vaccine molecules to the buccal region compared to current techniques, such as an eyedropper, according to the results of the animal studies.
The researchers also tested the vaccine delivery method in pig tissue and again found significantly higher levels of vaccine molecules in buccal tissue when using the MucoJet system.
Measuring the New Technique’s Potential
The MucoJet is a complex system with two compartments and a piston inside the pill-like device, but researchers believe the device’s ease of use — which consists of clicking together the two compartments and placing it in the mouth — could make it highly effective against infections.
“Noninvasive immunization technologies have the potential to revolutionize global health by providing easy-to-administer vaccines at low cost, enabling mass immunizations during pandemics,” report the study authors in the journal Science Translational Medicine.
They describe a clear benefit to updating the current vaccine delivery methodology. “Existing technologies such as transdermal microneedles are costly, deliver drugs slowly and cannot generate mucosal immunity, which is important for optimal immunity against pathogens,” they report.
The next step involves studying the MucoJet technology in larger animals and eventually moving on to human trials. The researchers hope that the oral technique will be available in about five to 10 years. Should the testing proceed as planned, there’s no limit to the possibilities of drug administration — and that may be good news to the needle-shy, including young children.
“Imagine if we could put the MucoJet in a lollipop and have kids hold it in their cheek,” Aran said. “They wouldn’t have to go to a clinic to get a vaccine.”
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.