'Needles Can Stick It
- The painless future of vaccines'
It was 2006. I was waiting in line, palms sweaty, brow slick with sweat and heart pounding painfully against my chest. The queue gradually shortened and my breath came out in quicker bursts. I felt nauseous, dizzy, faint...
I was paralysed to the spot yet overwhelmed with a desire to flee.
The person in front of me disappeared and moments later, a lady dressed in a clinical, crisp-white uniform waved me over to her cramped desk. I auto-piloted towards her, trembling from head to toe. My dread increased in monumental proportions.
But then.. a sudden numbness.
All those horrible, uncomfortable feelings disappeared.
I was so afraid of my impending injection...
...I passed out. *** * *** * ***
It was not until my second last year of high school when all students had to undergo compulsory meningococcal vaccinations that I discovered my trypanophobia. According to Mavissakalian and Barlow in 'Phobia: Psychological and Pharmacological Treatment' (the sound of the two author's name themselves suggest authority), trypanophobia refers to the extreme fear of hypodermic needles or injections in medical procedures. It is normal for those of us with pressure and/or pain receptors to feel some form of discomfiture regarding these types of procedures but for trypanophobics, our fears are exaggerated and unreasonable and we are powerless to control it. For instance, I go out of my way to avoid any form of medical treatment in fear that it may involve the ominous injection. In fact, thinking about it makes me incredibly anxious and makes typing this blog entry very difficult due to 'sweaty-palm syndrome'.
We trypanophobics can now breathe a sigh of relief as an alternative to those monstrous needles is being developed on a global scale. Scientists are working on a type of skin patch to administer vaccines without the need for painful jabbing. There are several groups of researchers – government, university, and drug companies – working internationally to achieve this end. It, however, originated from the depths of an Australian Dr Mark Kendall's mind and he was given sum of $15 million by a plethora of financial backers to initiate this project.
The drug still has to enter the body system somehow so how, you may ask, can this nanopatch do it without any pain? Conventional injections administer the vaccine deep into muscle tissue. These nanopatches consist of hundreds of microscopic needles that dissolve into the skin. The patch is smaller than a postage stamp and has 20,000 micro-projections per square centimetre dry-coated with vaccine. When the patch is placed against the skin, the projections push through into the narrow layer beneath the skin surface.
Richard Compans, professor of microbiology and immunology at Emory University School of Medicine, says that “the skin is a particularly attractive site for immunisation because it contains an abundance of the types of cells that are important in generating immune responses to vaccines". To simplify what Dr Compans has said, the skin is densely packed with immune cells called dendritic cells. These cells pass the vaccine around the body to stimulate protection. Because dendritic cells are found in abundance in the skin, a stronger immune response is triggered with the same dosage as a conventional injection. Therefore – theoretically – the same response can be generated with a lower dose of vaccine. Essentially, they do not hurt because the microneedles do not go deep enough into the skin to aggravate any nerve endings. As a comparison, typical hypodermic needles span a few millimetres in length, whereas a microneedle is about a micrometre long.
Researchers from Emory University and the Georgia Institute of Technology in America have inaugurated testing on these nanopatches. Their victims of choice were mice. They divided the mice into two groups, one group being