FRONT PAGES: A BBQ Lighter, Combined With Microneedles And A New Method Of Vaccine Delivery, Sparks Breakthrough In Covid-19 Vaccine Delivery

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dWeb.News Article from Daniel Webster dWeb.News

. Newswise — The future of vaccine delivery could be based on everyday items such as BBQ lighters and microneedles thanks to the creativity of Emory University researchers and Georgia Institute of Technology.

The researchers, led by Georgia Tech’s School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, have developed and tested an innovative method that may simplify the complexity of delivering vaccines, including those for Covid-19, through a handheld electroporator.

While electroporation can be used in research laboratories to drive molecules into cells using short electric pulses, it requires expensive, large and complex equipment that severely limits its potential use for vaccine delivery. Georgia Tech’s method uses a pen-sized device that doesn’t require batteries and can be mass manufactured at a low cost.

The team’s findings were published in the Oct. 20 Issue of the Proceedings of National Academy of Sciences.

The Aha Moment

The inspiration for their breakthrough came from an everyday device that people use to start a grill: the electronic barbecue lighter. My lab discovered that you could use something everyone is familiar with when you do Fourth of July barbecues — an electronic barbecue lighter.” Saad Bhamla (assistant professor in the School of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering) explained that each time one clicks on the lighter, it generates electricity that ignites the flame.

His group took the insides of a lighter, and made a small spring-latch mechanism from them. This device generates an electric field that is similar to the larger, bulkier electroporation machines, but it uses low-cost, widely available components and does not require a battery. His aha moment was when he realized that the device doesn’t require a plug or battery to operate, which is a major advantage over conventional electroporation equipment. “And these lighter components cost just pennies, while currently available electroporators cost thousands of dollars each.”

Pairing the reimagined lighter device with microneedle technology from Georgia Tech’s Laboratory for Drug Delivery has resulted in a new ultra-low-cost electroporation system, or “ePatch.”

Closer Electrode Spacing, Lower Voltages

Besides the lighter, a key innovation involved tightly spacing the electrodes and using extremely short microneedles. Microneedles aren’t used for electrodes, but they are used in cosmetics to revitalize the skin and potential medical applications. The ePatch was further simplified and cost-effective by combining the microneedle electrodes with the electroporation pulser.

According to Mark Prausnitz (Regents’ Professor) and the J. Erskine Love Jr. Chair in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, their microneedle-based system uses voltages similar to conventional electroporation but with pulses that are 10,000 times shorter and using electrodes that penetrate just . 01 inch into the skin surface.

” Because of their close spacing, microsecond pulses can be used instead of conventional electroporation’s millisecond pulses. He said that the shorter pulse and the shallow placement of the microneedle electrodes allow for nerve and muscle stimulation to be used. This can reduce pain and twitching which are common side effects of conventional Electroporation.

“Our goal was to design a method for Covid-19 vaccination that is simple, low-cost, and manufacturable,” said Dengning Xia, lead author on the study while working as a research scientist at Georgia Tech and currently an associate professor at Sun Yat-sen University in China.

” The ePatch, a small handheld device that weighs less than a pen and requires no batteries or power sources, is about the size of a pen. He explained that it works by pushing a button. This makes it easy to use.”

Testing for an Immune Response

But could their system be used with a vaccine to generate an immune response?

To find out, the researchers teamed with Chinglai Yang, associate professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at Emory University School of Medicine, to test the delivery system first using a florescent protein to ensure it worked, and to deliver an actual Covid-19 vaccine. They selected an experimental DNA vaccine for Covid-19 as their model.

” “In the beginning, it was not clear that it would succeed when Georgia Tech asked for my collaboration on this project,” Yang stated. Surprisingly, the results were far better than I expected even on my first attempt. Using the same vaccine as intramuscular immunization, the ePatch elicited a nearly tenfold increase in immune response to the ePatch. It did not have any lasting effects on the skin of mice. This means that protection is much easier,” he explained.

Simplifying Electroporation

The researchers say the ePatch should also work for mRNA vaccination, which they are currently studying. But, a cheaper and more cost-effective way to combine the DNA vaccine with an electroporator could drastically reduce the complexity and cost of vaccinations. It doesn’t need deep freeze storage for mRNA vaccines which require cold temperatures due to their lipid nanoparticles.

” We believe that electroporation is the key to DNA vaccination. It should be simple, cost-effective, and scalable. Prausnitz stated.

The ePatch is generating excitement in the health industry, according to Nadine Rouphael (professor of medicine, executive director of Hope Clinic at Emory Vaccine Center). Today’s genetic vaccines (mRNA and DNA) are still expensive because they require complex cold chains and expensive manufacturing. Or they require sophisticated electroporation devices for DNA vaccine delivery.

A Vaccine Delivery Breakthrough

“The Georgia Tech portable and affordable electroporation ePatch can overcome these limitations and can be a potential game changer in the vaccine delivery arena,” Rouphael predicted.

The researchers are currently looking into ways to improve their system. They will also be evaluating how to optimize the immune response at the skin site.

” This would revolutionize vaccination,” Yang stated.

The team must reach multiple milestones before they can conduct human trials. Prausnitz expects that it will take more than five years for their invention to be approved for clinical trials and ready for widespread usage. The ePatch would be approved in a traditional manner, rather than during the pandemic.

All four researchers agree with Rouphael about the potential for their ePatch, which could democratize vaccination access. Bhamla explained that vaccines are only effective for those who have the resources and financial means to afford them. However, this is not possible for many people in the developing world.

“We know that Covid-19 won’t be the last pandemic,” Bhamla said. “We need to think from a cost as well as design perspective about how to simplify and scale up our hardware so these modern interventions can be more equitably dispersed — to reach more underserved and more under-resourced areas of the world.”

The research team also included Gaurav Byagathvalli, Huan Yu, and Chao-Yi Lu from Georgia Tech and Rui Jin and Ling Ye from Emory University.

Mark Prausnitz is an inventor of patents licensed to companies, is a paid advisor to companies, and is a founder/shareholder of companies developing microneedle-based products. Georgia Tech manages this potential conflict of interests.

CITATION: Dengning Xia, et al., “An ultra-low-cost electroporator with microneedle electrodes (ePatch) for SARS-CoV-2 vaccination” (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 2021).

The Georgia Institute of Technology, or Georgia Tech, is a top 10 public research university developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition. The Institute offers degrees in business, computing, design and engineering. Its nearly 40,000 students, representing 50 states and 149 countries, study at the main campus in Atlanta, at campuses in France and China, and through distance and online learning. Georgia Tech, a world-class technological university, is a major engine for economic development in Georgia, the Southeast and the Nation. It conducts more than $1 billion annually in research for government, industry and society.

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