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New Vaccine Technology Eliminates the Need for Syringes—and EMRs

Researchers at MIT have devised an innovative way to record a patient’s vaccination history that doesn’t require traditional documentation.

Each year, approximately three million people die due to vaccine-preventable diseases, half of which are in children less than five years old. Yet, for many, a common barrier to receiving a complete set of immunizations is a lack of medical records. In response to this infrastructural problem, especially prevalent in developing countries, researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have devised an innovative way to record a patient’s vaccination history that doesn’t require traditional documentation.

How Does the EMR-Free Vaccine Work?

Along with delivering the life-saving contents of the vaccine, a micro-needle patch inputs a pattern of dye under the skin invisible to the naked eye, which indicates the patient received a particular vaccine. The pattern is composed of copper-based quantum dots, a type of nanocrystal that gives off light under certain spectrums. Each dot measures about four nanometers across, and clinicians can detect them using a smartphone with the infrared filter removed. Delivering the medication and dye takes about two minutes.

According to the research published in Science Translational Medicine, the dots resisted photobleaching when added to human cadaver skin, simulating five years of sunlight. The dots also remained detectable for up to nine months when tested in rats. Researchers have used the technology to deliver immunizations for measles, rubella, and more.

“This study confirmed that incorporating the vaccine with the dye in the microneedle patches did not affect the efficacy of the vaccine or our ability to detect the dye,” said Ana Jaklenec, Ph.D., a research scientist at MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research, in a statement.

What Does the Research Mean for Clinicians?

The researchers believe their invention could eliminate missed opportunities to vaccinate and make individual clinicians’ lives easier.

“Overall, we are really excited about the technology, and we think it has great potential for use in the clinic,” said Kevin J. McHugh, Ph.D., lead study author and assistant professor of bioengineering at Rice University, in a video statement. “It can really solve some health problems at the individual level in understanding what vaccines a child has received and which are still needed.”

In particular, “in areas where paper vaccination cards are often lost or do not exist at all, and electronic databases are unheard of, this technology could enable the rapid and anonymous detection of patient vaccination history to ensure that every child is vaccinated,” Dr. McHugh added.

What’s Next?

So far, the research, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and a grant from the National Cancer Institute, has focused on rats, so more extensive studies are needed. In addition, the researchers plan to survey healthcare workers in developing nations to solicit feedback on implementing this novel type of vaccination record-keeping.

Additionally, they are working on expanding the amount of data that could be encoded within a single pattern. This would permit them to include information like the date of the vaccine administration and the lot number of the vaccine batch.

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