Researchers have developed an experimental oral delivery system that may one day allow patients to self-administer vaccines without using needles, according to a proof-of-concept study released Wednesday.
The study, published in the U.S. journal Science Translational Medicine, did not test vaccine delivery in people, but demonstrated that the device, called MucoJet, is capable of delivering vaccine-sized molecules to immune cells in the mouths of animals.
MucoJet, a 15-by-7-milimeter plastic device, consist of a 3D-printed pill-shaped cartridge with two separate interior compartments.
Researchers demonstrated that compressing the capsule triggered a chemical reaction that ejected the device's contents in the form of a high-pressure spray, which quickly delivered a vaccine to the inside of the mouth.
"The jet is similar in pressure to a water pick that dentists use," study author Kiana Aran, who developed the technology while a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, said in a statement.
In laboratory and animal experiments, MucoJet was shown to be able to deliver a high-pressure stream of liquid and immune system-triggering molecules that penetrate the mucosal layer to stimulate an immune response in the mouth's buccal region, where many infections enter the body.
The study did not compare the MucoJet to vaccine delivery with a needle, but data suggested that MucoJet can trigger an immune response that is as good or better than delivery with a needle, especially for mucosal pathogens.
For example, rabbits immunized with MucoJet not only produced antibodies indicative of systemic immunity, but also developed a mucosal immune response, which is crucial as a first-line of defense against most pathogens.
The next step in MucoJet's development is to test the delivery of a real vaccine in larger animals, according to the study.
The researchers hoped MucoJet can be available in five to 10 years. They also hoped to engineer a version of MucoJet that can be swallowed and then release vaccines internally.
The researchers are also considering other shapes, sizes and designs to simplify vaccine administration procedures and increase patient compliance, especially for children. For example, MucoJet could be fabricated into a lollipop.
"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."