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Researchers are working on a patch that can vaccinate wearers against measles

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Human clinical trials could begin as early as 2017

Infection Control Today

A small, wearable patch is in development that could change the landscape of vaccinations, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology are in the process of creating a microneedle patch that could provide a simpler, safer alternative to standard measles shots.

The patches are around one square centimeter in size and can be applied almost like a sticker. On the underside of each patch are 100 conical microneedles made of polymer, sugar, and the vaccine. The microneedles are just a fraction of a millimeter long and dissolve within minutes after the patch is applied. The patch can then be discarded.

Human clinical trials could begin in 2017

Vaccinations delivered through microneedle patches could be hugely beneficial in developing countries without sophisticated medical access. The patches eliminate the need for sanitation and disposal of hypodermic needles. Because of the simplicity of application, the patches can be administered by "minimally trained workers," according to the CDC. The patches are also easier to store and travel with than standard vaccines, which react more easily to temperature shifts.

"With no needles, syringes, sterile water or sharps disposals needed, the microneedle patch offers great hope of a new tool to reach the world’s children faster, even in the most remote areas," James Goodson, epidemiologist from the CDC’s Global Immunization Division, said in a statement. "This advancement would be a major boost in our efforts to eliminate this disease, with more vaccines administered and more lives saved at less cost."

In 2013, there were 145,700 measles-related deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization. Measles is a leading cause of death in young children globally, despite the existence of a safe and cost-effective vaccine. Last year, measles cases in the US climbed to a 20-year high that the CDC attributed to unvaccinated people. Earlier this year, a measles outbreak surfaced again in the US that was traced to the Disneyland resort in Anaheim, California.

Georgia Tech and the CDC released a study in 2012 that detailed the immune response of rhesus macaques to the microneedle patches. The researchers found no adverse effects during that study. Following proposals, human clinical trials of the patches could begin as early as 2017.