Say goodbye to needles: Ultrasound offers painless delivery through the skin

Scientists at the University of Oxford have made a breakthrough in vaccine administration with the use of ultrasound, providing a needle-free and painless method of delivery. This technique holds promise for DNA vaccines, which have been challenging to administer effectively.

This ultrasound technique marks a major step forward in painless and efficient vaccine delivery, offering hope for a future where vaccinations can be administered without the anxiety and discomfort associated with needles.

The method utilises a phenomenon known as “cavitation,” where bubbles are formed and burst in response to sound waves. Darcy Dunn-Lawless, a doctoral student at the University of Oxford’s Institute of Biomedical Engineering, explains, “We aim to harness the concentrated bursts of mechanical energy produced by these bubble collapses in three main ways: clearing passages through the outer layer of dead skin cells, acting as a pump to drive the vaccine molecules into these passages, and opening up the membranes surrounding the cells themselves.”

While initial tests showed a lower quantity of vaccine molecules delivered compared to conventional injection, the cavitation approach resulted in a higher immune response. This is attributed to the immune-rich skin targeted by ultrasonic delivery, as opposed to the muscles targeted by traditional injections. The outcome is a more efficient vaccine that could potentially reduce costs, increase efficacy, and minimize side effects.

Dunn-Lawless acknowledges that excessive cavitation could potentially cause tissue damage, but emphasizes that careful monitoring and limiting exposure can prevent such risks. The team at the University of Oxford, working under the supervision of Dr. Mike Gray, Professor Bob Carlisle, and Professor Constantin Coussios, is dedicated to identifying the safety threshold for vaccine delivery to ensure the technique’s viability.

The significance of this needle-free vaccine delivery lies not only in the elimination of needle-related fears, but also in its potential to facilitate the administration of DNA vaccines. DNA vaccines offer advantages such as a focused immune response, low infection risks, and enhanced shelf stability. With the help of cavitation, these benefits can be fully harnessed by cracking open the membranes that hinder therapeutic access to the cell nucleus.